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Restoring Sanity, Part 4: Anxiety and Civilization

Editor’s Note: The first three installments of the Restoring Sanity series are An Inhuman System, Mental Illness As A Social Construct, and Medicating.

By Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance

If you don’t want any more anxiety, get rid of all your intelligence and your creativity which would be a very dull life for all of us.

—Rollo May

Don’t worry, be happy.

—Bobby McFerrin

Anxiety is a normal and healthy aspect of human existence. Sören Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” an acknowledgment that we always have some choices to make in life. Each choice we make can bring us closer to our objectives, but can also close off other paths. Choosing is both a birth and a death, both being and non-being. This is why we are anxious. Anxiety begins at the time between being, which is what we experience as a result of our choices, and non-being, which is what we give up. Anxiety is part of becoming, of growing and changing. This is what it means to be alive.

Unhealthy anxiety comes when we are so plagued by worry, stressors, trauma and decisions that we lose tolerance for normal anxiety. We become paralyzed and can no longer act or choose. Thoughts of death may turn to despair and drown out life; we get depressed and apathetic. To be healthily anxious, on the other hand, is in many ways the opposite of depression and apathy. To live a satisfying and effective life is to learn to live with uncertainty. If we become so overwhelmed or intimidated by uncertainty that we avoid making choices, we have passively chosen apathy by default; life then becomes unfulfilling and meaningless. We may walk around and draw breath—feeling like we’re taking action by worrying—but without the opportunities that might have been found by actively choosing. In this way, anxiety and worry become avoidance behaviors that reinforce addictions or depression.

When it’s from fear of life choices or awareness of death, anxiety is not a symptom of a disease but a vigorous mind at work. This is healthy anxiety, finding perspective to make our choices in life or to find appreciation for life in the context of death. In its positive forms, anxiety is meant to motivate us to seek safety, worthiness, competence, and security. Without anxiety, our lives become empty. We wait, not knowing what for, avoiding the unavoidable destiny that comes at the end of our waiting. Healthy anxiety saves us from literal, emotional, and mental death.


Our previous essays[1] on the oppressive effects of individualism, depression, and addictions all involve an evaluation of the context of civilization. As with any modern mental health problem, a certain sort of anxiety is inherent to living in civilization.

By civilization, we do not mean the supposed social utopia of laws and democratic decisions—a pinnacle of human achievement—that the word has come to mean. Rather we are taking it to task at its root as the formation and maintenance of cities. We define a city as any settlement large enough in population to require the importation of resources.[2] The ancient civilization of Rome was a city that needed to expand its trade influence because it couldn’t grow, log, mine, or otherwise produce its material needs within the city’s immediate area.

While diplomacy and rule of law may play various parts in a civilization’s goals, the underlying requirement will always be force. Because trade is by definition voluntary, Rome’s needs couldn’t be entirely guaranteed by trade alone, so military force had to secure the city within a surrounding empire. Because the environmental and social impacts of agricultural and industrial extraction occur far from a city, it’s possible for civilized people to pretend their way of life is forever sustainable, when in reality it’s the very opposite. The fall of Rome came with the inevitable limits of empire.

To call the Hopi tribe of Arizona a civilization, then, would be false because they had no need to form an empire to acquire what they needed. They had no military because everyone was a warrior,[3] a defender of the high desert they’d made their home for centuries. Calling the Hopi “uncivilized” in the ordinary sense of the word is the worst sort of insult: a lie hidden in a false premise. The Hopi were intelligent, resourceful, fierce, and community-minded, but they were not civilized by the city’s necessity of war and acquisition.

Because nearly all humans alive now were born into civilization, it’s the only reality we know and we naturally take as a given all of its demands. Those include everything from war, deforestation, and global warming, down to the routines of work, money, and worry. Wherever we happen to fit in the wealth-generating scheme of civilization—rich, poor, dominator or oppressed—we assume we’re part of a wise and provident arrangement of humanity.

But civilization is only a destructive imitation of decent human society, a business plan enforced by violence. It is cruel and insane, in denial of the reality of a finite world. Without our knowing it all of civilization’s attributes and consequences have been internalized into our lives, on every level: material, spiritual, and mental. Anxiety, of a chronic and intractable sort, is one of the primary afflictions of the civilized human.

Imagine living in a scrubby, warm forest with a few meandering rivers and rolling meadows, a land so wide it seems to fill the whole of the world. There are no electric lights, no roads, no cars, no computers; only the wild, fecund land. You are a member of an egalitarian society whose food comes from a casual husbandry of small animals like goats and sheep, fishing, the hunting of wild game and gathering of wild plants. Though to a modern person this seems an impossibly distant and antiquated way of life, in fact it was a stable condition that maintained itself very well for many tens of thousands of years.

Agriculture ended that. Not restless inventiveness, not tribal warfare, not human nature, but a technological discovery that made empires possible. Grains can be stored and guarded, and this is what an army really is for, and what it needs more than weapons. As grain cultivation spreads, forests, scrub, and meadows are burned for fields. The grazing animals must go. The rivers must be diverted. The game and predators and wild plants must go, and so food security—for most—must also go. For civilization to produce food surpluses, the majority of people and land area must be enslaved.

The first foundation myth needed for a civilization is that cultivated annuals (wheat, corn, rice) are a more secure food source than hunted or grazed animals. Any monoculture is more prone to catastrophic disease than any polyculture, and requires the constant mining of topsoil to continue. Yet monoculture does produce more food for a limited time, and this allows populations to increase. More people need more food, so more forests fall, and more slaves are born to work more fields.

Generation by generation grain agriculture spread as it consumed topsoil, and agricultural societies adapted to acquire more land. Since their pastoral neighbors hunted, gathered, and fished the lands and waters agriculture needs, they had to go. To continue this way of life, war was no longer about territorial bickering but rather absolute necessity. So was slaving in the fields, and so was the enslavement of women as a resource to produce more slaves, forcing them to increase birthrates.[4] Civilization needs this ongoing control over one by another, and because agriculture requires labor as well as land it will always have many who suffer and toil and few who enjoy the resulting wealth. This social model has grown in sophistication and prevalence, but otherwise hasn’t changed since it began 10,000 years ago.

The Middle East is now stripped of topsoil and human rights and is the hottest furnace of modern war. From what we know about remaining indigenous cultures,[5] life in the pre-agricultural forests of the Fertile Crescent was not the struggle and horror it has become but a comparatively serene existence, with much less work, stress, and illness—physical and mental both. The human animal evolved as a hunting and gathering creature. We are ill-adapted to the civilized life. Its grain-based diet—the malnutrition food of the poor[6]—and constant work schedule keep us literally under the gun, and are the basis for our mental and emotional conditions. Though this condition seems beyond help, it’s not. And it’s here we’ll find answers to why we are always in psychological emergencies.


Anxiety and Culture

The way we experience anxiety is framed by our culture. In civilization, we are conditioned to feel anxiety in relation to competitive ambition. We are trained to compete—in sports, in education, in wealth, in attractiveness, in popularity—and anxiety often results when our unrealistic visions of perfection aren’t reached. Why should security be tied to individual competition? As social animals, we humans have a need for social acceptance and security. Instead of ensuring this, civilization has conditioned us to accept that “winning” brings acceptance and security, and “losing” brings insecurity and social shunning. It is no wonder that anxiety is so pervasive among humans living within the system of civilization. In his book The Meaning of Anxiety, existential psychologist Rollo May writes: “The weight placed upon the value of competitive success is so great in our culture and the anxiety occasioned by the possibility of failure to achieve this goal is so frequent that there is reason for assuming that individual competitive success is both the dominant goal in our culture and the most pervasive occasion for anxiety.”

This competitive arrangement does not reflect a human quality but is rather a means of increasing production and concentrating wealth. Our hunger for security is so strong that those who suffer most from the abuses of a system based on property and coercion will tolerate and even defend the very system that causes their suffering. They will redouble their efforts using the same cultural assumptions, caught in a double bind, having to choose either ambition or poverty.

The more oppressed an individual is within the classes of civilization, the more anxiety they experience and the less likely they are to ever be in an advantaged position to compete. Women and people of color are less likely to be rewarded with high ranking positions because of racism and sex discrimination, which leads to higher rates of anxiety.[7] Success must be glorified, since who wants to compete in a system that is rigged for most of us to lose?

The dominant culture and the social roles into which we are coerced affect the self-esteem or self-worth of women in particular.[8] Women tend to view themselves more negatively than men, which is a major factor for many mental health problems.[9] Psychological disorders in general are 20-40% higher in women than men,[10] and anxiety disorders are most prevalent in women age 16-40.[11] Cognitive distortion[12] is also a symptom of both low self-esteem and pathological anxiety, and comes from living in a culture where economic and social injustice is so normalized as to be nearly invisible. Those on the bottom in this arrangement are the ones who suffer the most, as the powerless are robbed of choices in their own destiny.[13]


As for those who “win” in this system, how can they ever be sure that their competitors won’t gain more wealth and power, possibly at their expense? Even the upper middle class can never obtain absolute security, since they are driven to always increase wealth. It is a vicious cycle of acquisition of power, one that is driven by chronic anxiety and misery.


Stress and anxiety have similar effects on our bodies and minds. While either chronic anxiety or stress can disable or kill us, the difference between them becomes more apparent when managing symptoms.[14]

Modern civilized lifestyles burden us with many unavoidable stressors like work, inflexible social rules, and money and health worries. Stress can often be managed by giving the body and mind a rest, assuming one can make the time for it. Healthy lives require relaxation. To sit outside under a shady tree drinking tea and watching butterflies, for example. Stress can be reduced by eating well, exercising, and including enjoyable and healthy activities in our days. Some stress might only be resolved by making major life changes, such as eliminating toxic people from our lives, quitting a stressful job, or moving from a hectic and polluted city. Most people are unable to make these changes, of course, and so are subject to chronic stress, the root problem of many mental and physical health issues.[15]


Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of nervousness, worry or unease, often about an unknowable outcome or from the fear of being evaluated negatively by others. Specific, acute anxiety keeps us safe from danger and vulnerability. Like pain, anxiety is not a problem itself—both warn us that we need to take some sort of action to reduce or eliminate the cause.

The line between healthy and unhealthy anxiety is vague and subjective. The American Psychiatric Association’s dubiously drug-happy classification handbook, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, or DSM-5,[16] recognizes the following diagnosable anxiety disorders: phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, panic disorder with agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood anxiety disorders.[17] Anxiety disorders are the most common diagnosed mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, about 18 percent of the population.[18] According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated.” This is one way of delineating “healthy” from “unhealthy” anxiety. Another way of putting it might be “destructive anxiety” and “constructive anxiety,” though these are subjective terms too.

A more exact definition might be “pathological anxiety,” when danger and vulnerability is exaggerated.[19] If it’s misperceived or nonexistent, there is no action to take that can eliminate the cause of this kind of anxiety, and it can become chronic, generalized, and repressed. Chronic or repressed anxiety leads to apathy, a loss of will, a sense that we can’t obtain anything, and powerlessness. Chronic anxiety can also cause stress that results in physical symptoms like muscle tension, stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, or other physical disorders.[20]

A friend of ours who’s prone to chronic anxiety also has occasional panic attacks, and describes the complete helplessness they bring as “a crazy but certain fear of death.” More mundane moments of anxiety, he says, are more about an inability to perform the simplest tasks. “It’s hard for me to tell the difference between apathy and anxiety,” he explains. We the authors are a more fidgety breed, using anxiety as an engine of activity that often gets so out of control that relaxation is impossible, and our only rest comes from exhaustion. In its most extreme form, this constant stress probably led to Hyatt’s life-threatening autoimmune disorder.

What about positive thinking?

A well-meaning person, concerned about our pain over suffering and injustice, suggested: “What do you think of cultivating a mind where there is a peaceful separation of thought from emotional response?” This seems like a practical idea, encouraged by titles of self-help books like Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quiet Your Mind, and of course it isn’t helpful to get upset about every sad or awful thing the dominant culture does to innocent beings. For one thing, that list is so terribly long; for another, emotions amount to little until they are engaged with action and there is only so much anyone can do, no matter how dedicated they are. But separating our emotional responses from our physical and mental experiences creates disconnection with reality and ourselves. The same is true of undiscriminating negativity.

Is it only by dissecting ourselves (mind from body, emotion from reason, thought from feeling) that we can live a decent life in a civilized world? This is like separating emotional knowledge that the earth is alive from practical knowledge of the minerals in its crust. The ore can be extracted and we don’t feel bad about it. We can then continue on with the lie that we are free. The well-being of our wider community, which must include other species, other cultures, whole biomes, is more important than our personal sense of peace. This is because any lasting freedom and peace—personal or otherwise—depends on functional communities (human and nonhuman both) to exist. It is a sign of our oppression that we must resort to positive thinking to avoid the need to engage a negative but healthy response to living in an unsustainable, toxic society.

When we react with anxiety to situations that we can neither eliminate nor attenuate, it does seem as if the only relief is to think positive thoughts or to feel nothing at all. Chemicals like alcohol and psychiatric meds can help this numbing; so can religion and spirituality. Avoiding the truth might eliminate anxiety or stress in the short term, but the global effects of civilization (deforestation, climate destabilization, ocean acidification, mass extinction, etc.[21]) are neither exaggerations nor the creations of our minds. It would not be healthy—or even rational—to try to cultivate a peaceful, unemotional mind and think positive thoughts when the living world is dying.[22] Avoidance behavior is one reason for this dying; it is also the core of depression, pathological anxiety, and many other disorders that define poor mental and emotional health.


The long-term social solution to chronic stress and anxiety is to dismantle civilization and the toxic society resulting from this way of life, and to restore healthy landbases and human communities. Personal solutions for anxiety problems are also available, though they may seem no less daunting.

Remedies for the pathological anxiety of agricultural societies arose alongside the causes. Monotheistic religions are perhaps the best example. Their promotion of controlling behavior, unavoidable apocalypses, and the primary importance of individual salvation all serve the needs of empires. Even Taoism, among the least warlike of civilized doctrines, emphasizes the detachment from the real world that war requires. If starvation is a terrifying reality—as it surely was and will continue to be for many Chinese—it’s no surprise that such a belief system would evolve. Nor is it surprising that women might come to be hated by cultures driven to control their environment—such as those based on agriculture. Treating women as objects to extract resources from grows logically out of this type of culture, as does male violence towards women.

Durable solutions to human misery won’t be found in the usual responses of victim blaming, resource exploitation, and promising rewards in the afterlife, as civilized societies have always done. This is true on both a social and personal scale. Modern pharmaceuticals[23] are only another way civilization moderates its hurtful effects on humans. Helpful as psychiatric meds may occasionally be, they are not fundamentally different than Marx’s “opiates of the masses” or the many cheap and emotionally damaging distractions of pageantry and spectacle for sale anywhere one cares to look.   They’re all coping mechanisms engineered within systems of control that have the system’s needs in mind, not ours.

Denial of emotion is necessary for the dominant culture to function, and complements the way civilization treats every living being as an object. Yet we are alive, and we do feel. So what are we to do with all that worry and stress, if we don’t separate our emotional responses from our daily exposure to the cruelty and waste that civilization requires? Will we despair? Or even worse for civilization, work to take it down because it hurts so much? Will we find others who feel similarly, and organize to resist the destruction of the world and all that’s in it? In the meanwhile, how do we cope with our own worries? Awareness of circumstances and our reactions is a critical first step to healing.

A good way to begin might be to shrink the immensity of the problem to manageable parts, so we might get some short-term relief. When experiencing anxiety, it is essential to analyze the cause to determine if it can be eliminated. This might be as simple as finishing a difficult homework assignment or taking the next step towards completing a big project. If the source of anxiety cannot be eliminated or reduced, we may need to take steps to change how we feel. Some effective non-drug treatments are eliminating caffeine and alcohol, improving diet, and supplementing B and D vitamins. Our friend with panic attacks notes that these steps alone usually eliminate all sensations of pathological anxiety. Other helpful methods include psychotherapy, meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and various thought-stopping techniques.[24] These all involve a lot of trial and error, so it’s important to remember that failures do not reflect on who we are; they are rather only events, part of discovering, learning, evolving and adapting.

Anxiety has a positive and healthy aspect, and is not to be avoided. The constructive use of anxiety is how we create satisfying and effective lives, and perhaps influence the future of the world in a positive way. Anxiety is inseparable from love. When we love, we commit ourselves to action. Love is the motivation for social and environmental activism, for taking on responsibility, for finding ways to influence our society and world.   Anxiety is experienced as a possibility, the intermediate between potential and reality; it connects us to the world and drives us to protect those we love.

All these problems we now face, it’s no wonder that this is an anxious age because all these things, overpopulation, pollution are going on all at once… Now these things are all symptoms of what makes this an anxious age and I think that what we must do as far as we can is to shift our thinking from simply worrying about these different problems to the questions of what can we do about them? The point is to turn your anxiety into active affect, to overcome the situation.

—Rollo May

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist. Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist. His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012. They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Beck, Aaron T., and Emery, Gary. Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking in Undermining America. New York: Picador, 2009.

Friedman, Ariellad and Todd, Judith. “Kenyan Women Tell a Story: Interpersonal Power of Women in Three Subcultures in Kenya.” Sex Roles 31: 533-546, in Nanda, Serena and Warms, Richard L. Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004, 387, 388.

Jensen, Derrick, Endgame Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, New York City, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Keith, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth. Crescent City, CA: Flashpoint Press, 2009.

Leventhal, Allan M. and Martell, Christopher R. The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

Manning, Richard. Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization. New York: North Point Press, 2004.

May, Rollo. Freedom and Destiny. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981.

_____. Love and Will. New York: Delta, 1989.

_____. The Meaning of Anxiety, Revised Edition. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1977.

Maybury-Lewis, David. Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. New York: Viking Penguin, 1992.

McKay, Matthew, Ph.D., and Fanning, Patrick. Self Esteem. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2000.

Sevillano, Mando. The Hopi Way: Tales from a Vanishing Culture. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press, 1986.


Awais Aftab, MD, MBBS, “Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5,” Psychiatric Times, February 28, 2014,

James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013,

Thomas B. Bramanti, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M.N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, and J. Burger, “Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers,” Science 2009, as reported in Science Daily, September 4, 2009,

Levine, Bruce E., “Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways—But Can It Change?” Truthout, March 5, 2014,

Moore, Heidi, “Little surprise here: women expected to do more at home—and at work,” The Guardian, November 1, 2013,

Nauert, Rick, PhD., and Grohol, John M., Psy.D., “Beyond Antidepressants: Taking Stock of New Treatments,” Psych Central, February 18, 2014,


[1] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, February 6, 2014,

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014,

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, May 20, 2014,

[2]  “Civilization is a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts—that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”  Jensen, 17.

[3] Sevillano, 38.

[4] Manning, 36.

Birthrates increased by a factor of four.

[5] Maybury-Lewis.

Millennium is an excellent, general reference on the comparative ease of hunting and gathering life, and an accessible introduction to the academic field of cultural anthropology. The book and accompanying film series describe several noncivilized cultures around the world, their customs and beliefs and general temperament. Chapter 2, “An Ecology of Mind,” (pages 35-62) is especially illuminating.

[6] John B. Marler and Jeanne R. Wallin, “Human Health, the Nutritional Quality of Harvested Food and Sustainable Farming Systems,” Nutrition Security Institute, 2006, accessed November 10, 2014,

[7] Mallory Bowers, “(en)Gendering psychiatric disease: what does sex/gender have to do with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?” The Neuroethics Blog, May 6, 2014,

[8] “It’s certainly plausible that women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of their social role – with that stress helping to trigger problems like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and insomnia. Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner ­– all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed. Given that domestic work is undervalued, and considering that women tend to be paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’, it would be surprising if there weren’t some emotional cost.

“It’s worth remembering too that women are also much more likely than men to have experienced childhood sexual abuse, a trauma that all too often results in lasting psychological and emotional damage,” Daniel Freeman, Ph.D. and Jason Freeman , “Know Your Mind” Psychology Today, June 2013,

[9] James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013,

[10] Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman, “Let’s talk about the gender differences that really matter – in mental health”, The Guardian, Dec 13, 2013

[11] Beck and Emery, 83.

[12] McKay and Fanning, 61-87

[13] “In one study, researchers used a storytelling technique to evaluate three groups of Kenyan women: rural women in a traditional village, poor urban women, and middle-class urban women…traditional women almost always told very positive stories that usually had a happy ending. Middle-class urban women told stories that emphasized their own power and competence. Poor urban women’s stories were generally tragic and focused on powerlessness and vulnerability. The researchers note that many poor urban women have ‘lost the security and protection of the old [traditional] system without gaining the power or rewards of the new system,’” Friedman and Todd.

[14] “Chronic anxiety and chronic stress often share a lot in common. They have similar emotional symptoms, they result in similar physiological reactions, and can easily be confused with the other. In a fast paced world, experiencing stress and anxiety is common and frequently people experience them simultaneously; however, it is important to understand the etiology of the symptoms and luckily there are differences which can help tell them apart. Chronic anxiety sufferers who have experienced therapy are often aware of their triggers…” Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014,

[15] “The long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: Anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.” “Chronic stress puts your health at risk,” Mayo Clinic, accessed October 14, 2014,

[16] We discuss the primacy of medications in modern psychiatric care more thoroughly in the second essay in this series, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,”

[17] Cara Santa Maria, “Anxiety vs. Stress: What’s The Difference?” Huffington Post, September 20, 2012,

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.).

[18] “Anxiety Disorders,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed October 6, 2014,

[19] Beck and Emory, 30, 68.

[20] “When the individual is burdened with anxiety over a long period of time and he feels he can’t do anything about it, then he may develop not only physical tension but he may develop physical symptoms—they may be heart palpitations or gastric ulcers or some other kind of physical symptom.” Rollo May, “Understanding and Coping with Anxiety,” Society for Existential Analysis, republished from Psychology Today, 1978,

[21] “Indicators of Ecological Collapse,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed October 1, 2014,

[22] Madhusree Mukerjee, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” Scientific American, May 23, 2012,

“Species Disappearing at an Alarming Rate, Report Says. Watchdog Releases Annual ‘Red List,’ Warns Extent is Underestimated,”, November 17, 2004,

[23] “Fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and citalopram (Celexa®) are some of the SSRIs commonly prescribed for panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social phobia. SSRIs are also used to treat panic disorder when it occurs in combination with OCD, social phobia, or depression. Venlafaxine (Effexor®), a drug closely related to the SSRIs, is used to treat GAD. These medications are started at low doses and gradually increased until they have a beneficial effect.” National Institute for Mental Health, “Anxiety Disorders,” accessed October 27, 2014,

[24] Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014,


How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 2

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Don’t miss How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

Law enforcement has been so ineffective in preventing illegal ORV use that citizens are usually left to face the problem on their own. Stopping ORVs isn’t easy, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—impacts will continue to worsen if there’s no intervention. In remote areas like the Mojave Desert and Colorado Plateau, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve active and sustained effort. Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs. Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates. Document the time, place, and circumstances. Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land. Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails. This can be surprisingly effective. Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land. ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Physically close legal trails. Similar to the last category, people may choose to carry out underground actions that close legal routes.[1] There must be a strict firewall between aboveground and underground activists: people or groups choosing to use underground tactics should not engage in aboveground actions, and vice versa.[2]

Close and reclaim established, authorized routes through administrative and legal channels. It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful. This, too, takes a long and sustained effort. One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR (Now Wild Earth Guardians),[3] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you. If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it—a simple solution of hard, dedicated effort. Organize with those who agree with you, and fight.

Coyote Canyon Revisited

Private landowners neighboring Coyote Canyon in southeast Utah fought the originally illegal ORV use of the canyon, and tried to stop the BLM from sanctioning it. They pleaded with the public via every venue they could think of to write letters to the BLM opposing the move, yet ORV interests grossly outnumbered the effort. Fewer than ten opponents to the trail even bothered writing letters, and when the decision to open the canyon to ORVs was made the BLM didn’t even bother notifying the respondents, a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Otherwise, however, the agency had prepared its documents thoroughly and neighbors were advised that a legal challenge probably wouldn’t have been effective. Although the BLM offered a number of concessions—the trail is only open Friday and Saturday to registered users, from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., among other restrictions—the agency legitimized crime, rewarding criminals with the sacrifice of another dwindling scrap of feral public land.

The Coyote Canyon example highlights several reasons why so few are willing to protect the land, and why they’re losing so badly. One is fear of reprisals from enemies (such as intentional trespass and vandalism of property, already an issue for neighbors of Coyote Canyon). Another is a reasonable assumption that their efforts will be ineffective—though of course making no effort will certainly be ineffective. Yet people tend to accept whatever situation they’re given. It’s uncommon to question an established arrangement, whatever it may be, and if one continues to question it life gets more uncomfortable. A resister will always face ridicule, accusations of poor mental, emotional and social adjustment, eventual ostracizing and occasionally murder. Yet social changes demand challenges to established practice.

When the BLM announced their decision to open Coyote Canyon to oil spills, noise, litter, piles of shit and soiled rags of toilet paper, almost everyone who was asked to help offered only a passing moment of sympathy. Not “what can I do,” not “what are our options,” but “that’s too bad.” It’s no wonder fights like this are frequently lost, when reactions are so feeble.

Industry and recreation groups, by contrast, are well organized and ready to rush to their own common cause. The right wing tends to be more accepting of orders; the boss says jump, they ask how high. They have something tangible they’re working for, a thing they like doing, a righteous maintenance of their privilege—such as driving anywhere they want. They stand to gain something where resistance stands only to prevent something—at least in situations like Coyote Canyon, where no comparable force opposes them.

Fighting Back

Resistance is tough. It means making one’s self unpopular, a hard thing to do among those who’ve been taught their whole lives that popularity is everything. Organizing can provide the possibility of overcoming our fear of reprisal, of ridicule, and of failure; it’s the only chance at effectively confronting injustices.   Those who wish to prevent agency actions like the Coyote Canyon trail, or to promote re-localization of food production—any defensive or restorative action—can become an effective force if they work together, consistently and reliably supporting one another. Many progressives have been bled off by dogmas of non-confrontation, by intoxicating feel-good-ness, and by the idea that individualism is of primary importance. They’ve become lazy, fatalistic, and cynical; committed, organized struggle seems to be the sorry lot of desperately poor people in faraway places.

The examples that we have of committed resistance movements often are of desperately poor people, immediately threatened by the activities of rich and powerful enemies. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta is one good example, and so are the more than 130 First Nations governments in western Canada that have gathered against the tar-sands Enbridge Northern Gateway Project and the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker projects.[4] We who are in a position to protect the land mostly lack the ability to respond, to turn our empathy for places like Coyote Canyon into action.

The situation at the frontiers of wild land is desperate, too. Wealth and privilege let us pretend it isn’t, because we get food from supermarket shelves and water from a tap. We see little or no connection between the health of the land and our own well-being. Public land use is an issue that can be influenced relatively easily—unlike, say, racism—because land managers so routinely ignore or violate laws and effective tactics usually have to do with citizen enforcement. But environmentalists continue to lose, partly because exploiters have miscast conflict as user-group obstruction—framing the terms of the debate to ridicule love of the wild world, separating its fate from human fate. By allowing this, would-be activists surrender the land and leave the future to sadists and imbeciles.

The destruction of the planet, however easy it is to ignore, will catch up with us all. The civilized economies that steal from the poor to give to the rich will eventually end. They need to consume limited resources to exist and those resources—fossil fuels, topsoil—will not last forever. When this happens, we will again depend upon the land to sustain us. If that land is stripped of its capacity to sustain life by industry, agriculture, and recreation, then there will be nowhere else to go, and nothing to do but wage war and starve.

Abuse of the land is now normalized by faith in nonexistent frontiers (of renewable energy and electric cars, for example) and by misguided tolerance. Naming abuse—the destruction of the land in the name of fun or individualistic pursuits and the destruction of our selves by abusive people and systems—is often portrayed as abusive in itself. This is outrageous and infuriating, but should be expected.

Though it is far less damaging than industry and agriculture, the evidence for ORV destruction is well documented and easy to come by. It’s not even really contested by ORVers themselves. Those of us determined to stop this behavior face the same problem law enforcement does: the damage is so widespread and difficult to regulate that there’s little anyone can do. But there’s also a serious lack of activists with effective tactics and a coherent strategy to follow through on. This doesn’t mean, though, that we should back down.


Identifying with the Real World

Once on Cedar Mesa, in Southeast Utah, I watched an ORV intentionally veer to crush a dozing snake. The reptile churned and writhed in the machine’s track, dead or near dead as its nerves popped and struggled and ran down. I went to it, to witness its pointless death. A thick and handsome bull snake, it spent its last moments bleeding out in the dust. Why? Why do this? What drives this sick, stupid behavior? Why does our culture hate every living thing?

I lifted the snake into the sage and blackbrush so it could at least die in its home. “If they can’t evolve to get out of the way,” someone once told me about road killed animals, “then that’s their problem.” Of course, not evolving to changing conditions is what causes extinction. There’s little doubt that our culture will not voluntarily evolve to halt the worsening conditions that industry and recreation are creating on the planet. So how does anyone fight activity like this? How do we stop deforestation, global warming, ocean acidification? And given those immense problems, is ORV land abuse something to focus limited energy and resources on?

In addition to the suggestions made in these articles, activists can develop tactics and strategies and their way forward will eventually become clear. With hard work and determination a chance of winning would almost certainly emerge. But in a world of Keystone XL pipelines and epidemic levels of fracking, is the effort worth it? If you caretake a few acres of land, blocking travel and pulling weeds, how much does it matter if you stop, or get distracted, or die? If those acres are again immediately vulnerable, is your effort a waste?

Few things anger me more that seeing wanton destruction for fun. I wonder, though, if this is an unhelpful distraction. It’s easy to get angry at something so obviously disrespecting of the land. In terms of permanent impacts, though, industry is much worse, and the scale of destruction is enormous. Of course what runs it is oil. Always this—the temporary, illusory power locked in a liquid hydrocarbon, driving ORVs, factory fishing trawlers, factory farms, and industrial agriculture. It’s warming the atmosphere and leading us to a horribly impoverished future, where most of us will be unable to afford the lifestyle we’ve been subjected and addicted to, let alone find enough to eat.

Remove the oil and the engines stop, and a besieged biosphere can begin to heal. This is part of the strategy that Deep Green Resistance has proposed.[5] But in the meanwhile…ORVs, just one part of the picture, continue to cut apart what little wild life remains, the last seed bank of evolution as we’ll ever know it. The momentum of established civilized practice is now enormous—seemingly unstoppable—and its terminal is in global destruction, the eradication of all complex life. Challenge to this system is so psychologically and practically difficult that most of us ignore it.

Fighting for the real, wild world can begin with the understanding that humans are not everything, and that the fate of the world is ultimately our fate. It is much different to fight for your own beloved family than for a rocky canyon you’ll never visit. We progressives like to talk about how hatred of “other” races cannot be tolerated (not that much is ever done about that). But we hardly ever extend this principle to the non-human world—constant victim of our culture’s violence—because we’ve been conditioned to believe that humans are all that matter. The loons, the snakes, the too-slow creatures smeared across the roads and ground under rubber tires into the dirt, they and the people yet to come who won’t be able to live as we have because the oil is gone—none of them will care about our abstract, self-indulgent moral wrestling. That is the wall that human supremacy has built around us; it must be torn down.

Imagine again that an occupying culture, whose every act is force and theft, was destroying the means of your survival. Imagine them extracting fuel to use the world as a playground. Of course, it is not enough to stop them from driving their toys in every possible place. To survive in the long term we must also stop the extraction, the root of the problem, and eliminate the fuel for destruction. We must reclaim our adult responsibilities and stand up to defend the land where we live, knowing that until oil extraction and consumption is ended, there will always be a new group of occupiers finding new ways to destroy the land.


[1] Foreman, Dave. Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching. Tucson: Ned Ludd Books, 1987, 89-109.

[2] Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists (PDF)

[3] “Resources,” Wild Earth Guardians, accessed July 13, 2014,

[4] Carrie Saxifrage, “How the Enbridge Pipeline Issue Unified Northern BC,” The Vancouver Observer, February 13, 2012,

“Interior First Nations Pipeline Ban,” Dogwood Initiative, You Tube, December 2, 2010,

Carrie Saxifrage, “No Oil Pipeline Here: Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel in Smithers finds 100% opposition,” The Vancouver Observer, January 17, 2012,

[5] “Decisive Ecological Warfare,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed August 28, 2014,


How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Imagine a time when you never once worried about losing your home or your means of making a living. Imagine your community used to be prosperous and well-run, providing everything you needed. You never gave a thought to giving back to it, though you always did and everyone else did, too. It hasn’t been this way for a long time—an invasion of thieves and murderers has taken all that away—but you remember what life was like.

The land is now impoverished by an unwelcome, occupying culture so self-important that they take everything without shame or even thought. These aliens have built their roads, power lines, and reservoirs all around you, siphoning every bit of your community’s resources for their own purposes. You have no recourse when an oil rig is set up in your town’s park, hospital, or swimming pool. You are helpless when they cut your watershed forest. There is nothing you can do about it, so you and your parents and your children and everyone else you know struggle on with no police to protect your health or property, no court to hear your grievance. You’d turn to your neighbors for help, but they’re in the same situation. The occupiers are everywhere, and they are all-powerful.

It’s not enough they’ve poisoned your water, built roads through your desert, and grazed their cattle across your range, stripping the grass from the ground which whips up into gritty brown curtains in the smallest wind. Many of your friends have been shot and left to rot in the street, but this doesn’t trouble the invaders; indeed, some of your children have been taken and kept in cages for their amusement. Now they want what’s left. They want everything, every inch of ground that once gave you all the wealth you ever wanted, all you could ever want.

In this dusty fragment that once was rich and whole, you barely get enough to eat and often feel ill because the water tastes of some sharp chemical. One day, engine noise comes from where no one has heard it before. Not along the ribbons of pavement where your kin are occasionally crushed to death, but in the last sad vestige of the flowering provident earth you’ve always loved. The machines come in packs. Aliens guide them over hills and through streams, muddying the water you and your children must drink. They roll over your friend’s house and you can hear them screaming inside, see their torn bodies, their bones stirred into the wreckage, smell their blood. You run away in pure bright panic as the machines veer insanely this way and that, destroying the neighborhood you grew up in. You might get away, but very likely you won’t. If you’re noticed at all, the end of your life will only be entertainment for the one who takes it.

This is what off road vehicles do.


Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon and Other Sacrifices

Coyote Canyon is a small rocky tributary to Kane Springs Creek on Bureau of Land Management property just south of Moab, Utah. It recently became another off road vehicle (ORV) trail. Like many such trails, it began illegally when specialized, expensive ORVs called “rock crawlers” began using it without BLM authorization. ORV users prompted the BLM to write an Environmental Analysis to make the route official, and now Coyote Canyon is in the BLM’s words “an extreme trail specifically designated for rock crawler-type vehicles only. The route is one-way up a small canyon and down another, and although it is only 0.65 miles long can easily take all day to navigate as refrigerator-sized boulders must be traversed. Only HEAVILY modified vehicles can make it through. This route provides rock crawler enthusiasts an opportunity to challenge both their rigs and skills in a unique setting.”[1] One of the main reasons ORVers wanted the “unique setting” is that a roll-over accident, not uncommon to rock-crawlers, won’t pitch the vehicle and its occupants off a cliff.

The noise and disturbance of ORVs fragment habitat and push public-lands policies toward more development by turning vague routes into established roads. In some instances ORVs are exclusively to blame for the endangerment of a species—such as at Sand Mountain, Nevada, formerly “Singing Sand Mountain” until it was overrun by machines churning to dust the habitat of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly. The Center for Biological Diversity writes that the butterfly “is closely linked to Kearney buckwheat; larvae feed exclusively on the plant, and adult butterflies rely on its nectar as a primary food source. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed off-road vehicle use to destroy much of the Kearney buckwheat that once thrived on the dunes at Sand Mountain.”[2]

Land management agency inertia is easily the most immediate reason the ORVs have caused so much damage, since law enforcement is underfunded and policy-makers don’t make a priority of protecting the land and wildlife that’s entrusted to them. The Center for Biological Diversity had to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to even get a response to a petition to list the Sand Mountain blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and the agency’s response was that they wouldn’t do it. “Not warranted.” In this case (and others such as manatees being killed by speedboats), there aren’t even any jobs being held hostage. This is recreation and nothing more, taking ever more animals, plants, and habitat from the biological legacy of the planet.

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

The Utah Wilderness Coalition had this to say about off road vehicles: “Most public lands are unprotected from ORVs in Utah. Roughly seventy-five percent, or 17 million acres out of 23 million acres, of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah still lack any real protection (including designated routes, maps, trail signs, and other tools to ensure that these natural areas are protected) from ORV damage.


“Utah has over 100,000 miles of dirt roads, jeep trails, and old mining tracks. Driving all of these trails would be the equivalent of driving four times the circumference of the Earth.


“The BLM allows nearly uncontrolled ORV use in areas that have known but unrecorded archeological resources, putting these resources at risk from vandalism and unintentional damage. ORVs can cause damage to fragile desert soils, streams, vegetation, and wildlife. Impacts include churning of soils, distribution of non-native invasive plants, and increased erosion and runoff. Rare plant, wildlife, and fish species are at risk.


“ORV use is growing nationwide. In the past 30 years, the number of off-road vehicles in the United States has grown from 5 million to roughly 36 million ORVs. The BLM has fallen woefully behind in the management of these machines on public lands.”[3]



“The Best Trails are Illegal”


Because illegal ORV use is so dispersed, it’s rare for underfunded and understaffed public lands law enforcement to catch anyone in the act. Usually what they see—what anyone sees—are the long-lasting impacts (tire ruts, crushed vegetation) and not the machines themselves. Without any evidence, there can’t be any enforcement. If you complain to the BLM or Forest Service about illegal trails, this is the response you can expect. If you can catch someone in the act, a license plate number—especially if you can photograph it—will be helpful, but there’s still the underlying issue of it not being all that illegal in the first place. A fine isn’t much of a deterrent, particularly when it’s extremely unlikely to happen at all.[4] The 30 million-odd ORVers in the US alone probably won’t ever be fined for illegal trails.

One reason why opposition to ORVs and the destruction they cause is so feeble and inadequate is because opponents are portrayed by ORV groups as wealthy elitists trying to corner access to common lands at their expense. This human-centered framing entirely discards other beings’ lives that depend on the land and water at stake.

Unfortunately, potential defenders seem to be disarmed by this tactic. A kayaker I know once explained how she used to resent jet-skis and speedboats on the lakes she paddles on, but decided she was being selfish and to just accept it. But personal peace and quiet is somewhat beside the point. Oil and fuel spilled by gasoline boat engines is toxic to fish, birds, and invertebrates, and wakes from motorized watercraft swamp nesting birds such as the loon. In terrestrial habitat, as road density increases habitat security for large animals like bears and wolves decreases. Habitat effectiveness for elk, for example, falls steeply from a hundred percent where there are no roads to 50 percent with two road miles per square mile to 20 percent with six road miles.[5] Acceptance of the destruction wrought by others might make one feel nicer and ostensibly more democratic, but it means abandoning the defenseless.

The entitlement taken by the ORVers themselves is even more aggressive and unconcerned for life. A motorcyclist, enraged by new restrictions on off-roading in the Mojave Desert, shouted at me: “It’s the fucking desert! Nothing lives out there!” Anyone who’s spent time in the desert and seen the many reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants who live there knows this is ridiculous. The Mojave is the smallest desert in North America, and is being dissected by solar energy projects, military bases, and an ever-worsening ORV infection. Desert tortoises are being displaced to the point of extinction, followed by every other Mojave lizard, snake, and ground-nesting bird in the way of the dominant culture’s activities.

Even on private land, where ORV activity is considered trespassing, landowners are often frustrated by law enforcement’s ineffectiveness.

A California organization called Community ORV Watch advises: “Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV [off highway vehicle] activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Department than either the BLM or the California Highway Patrol. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait…this can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours…

“By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a ‘what’s the use?’ attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.”[6] This organization’s focus, the Morongo Basin in Southern California, is especially unfortunate to be near large population areas where there are lots of ORVers.

Remote areas have their own problems, and even law enforcement organizations are admitting they’re powerless to control ORV use in their jurisdictions. In a 2007 memo, an organization called Rangers for Responsible Recreation writes:


“The consensus of [law enforcement] respondents is that off-road vehicle violations have increased in recent years. Specifically: A majority of respondents (53%) say that ‘the off-road vehicle problems in my jurisdiction are out of control.’ Nearly three quarters (74%) agree that the off-road vehicle problems in their jurisdictions ‘are worse than they were five years ago.’ Fewer than one in six (15%) believe that ORV problems are ‘turning around for the better.’”[7], “an umbrella organization consisting of ranchers, horseback riders, hikers, environmentalists, wood-gatherers, residents, hunters and off-roaders, who are dedicated to protecting Glorieta Mesa from irresponsible Off-Road Vehicle recreation” writes:

“A 2002 Utah report reveals that a high percentage of riders prefer to ride ‘off established trails’ and did so on their last outing. Of the ATV riders surveyed, 49.4% prefer to ride off established trails, while 39% did so on their most recent excursion. Of the dirt bike riders surveyed, 38.1% prefer to ride off established trails, while 50% rode off established trails on their most recent excursion.

“More than nine out of ten (91%) of respondent rangers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agree that off road vehicles represent ‘a significant law enforcement problem’ in their jurisdictions. According to one BLM respondent, ‘90% of ORV users cause damage every day they ride. Most will violate a rule, regulation or law daily.’”[8]

ORV damage is just another example of privileged access to limited and stolen resources, and it extends beyond the impacted land to the airborne dust that worsens early mountain snowmelt[9] and to the spread of invasive weeds.[10] Human communities are negatively affected, too. Moab merchants make many thousands of dollars on ORV tourism, but the menial jobs that support it are taxing and degrading. ORV tourists tip small or not at all, and are notoriously rude and spiteful. This is why Moab restaurant waiters call the annual “Jeep Week” ORV event “Cheap Week,” when you see hundreds of wealthy strangers swaggering around in t-shirts reading: the best trails are illegal.

Read part 2 of How to Stop Off Road Vehicles


[1] “Coyote Canyon Motorized Route,” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, accessed July 13, 2014,


[2] “Saving the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed July 13, 2014,


[3] “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness: THE FACTS ABOUT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DAMAGE,” Utah Wilderness Coalition, accessed July 13, 2014,


[4] “One possible reason for this trend [in increased ORV violations] is a failure to provide sufficient penalties to offroad riders who are caught breaking the law. ‘Possibly the greatest weakness in the ORV enforcement program is the lack of bite in judicial penalties,’ wrote one ranger from the Bureau of Land Management. ‘There is often little penalty in not paying tickets. In California… you only have to pay tickets when you renew a license,’” “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007,


[5] T. Adam Switalski and Allison Jones, eds., “Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands: A Guide for Designating and Managing Off-Road Vehicle Routes,” Wild Utah Project, January 2008,


[6] “Report ORV Abuse,” Community ORV Watch: Protecting Private and Public Lands From Off Road Vehicle Abuse, November 7, 2011,


[7] “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007,


[8] “Facts About OHV (ORV) Use,”, accessed July 15, 2014,


[9] Andrew P. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado; Thomas H. Painter, University of Utah; and Christopher C. Landry Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, “Desert Dust Enhancement of Mountain Snowmelt,” Feature Article From Intermountain West Climate Summary, July 2008,,d.cGU&cad=rja


[10] Thomas P. Rooney, “Distribution of Ecologically-Invasive Plants Along Off-Road Vehicle Trails in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin,” The Michigan Botanist, Volume 44, Issue 4, Fall, 2005,

2014 Sacred Water Tour Report-Back

Max Wilbert, Susan Hyatt, Katie Wilson, and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

In late May 2014, members of Deep Green Resistance (DGR), Great Basin Water Network, the Ely-Shoshone Indian tribe, and others toured the valleys of eastern Nevada and western Utah targeted by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) for groundwater extraction.[1] The region is part of the Great Basin, a cold desert named for its lack of any drainage to an ocean. What rain falls in the Great Basin remains there in a few streams, ponds, lakes, springs, and aquifers. It is these aquifers that SNWA wants to pump into a central pipeline and bring to the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson. The Goshute and Shoshone tribes and many groups, local individuals, businesses, and governments oppose the project, now stalled by lawsuits. DGR initiated the Sacred Water Tour to help familiarize potential opponents with the land and the water conflict.

We met on the 24th at the Goshute Tribal Headquarters, in the tiny town of Ibapah, Utah, near the Nevada border.   More than a year earlier, DGR coordinators Max Wilbert and Michael Carter met the tribal council here for the first time, to offer solidarity and assistance with the water-grab fight.

Goshute Tribal Headquarters

Goshute Tribal Headquarters

It was the Goshute’s dilemma that first attracted our attention to the SNWA pipeline.[2] Both the Goshute and Ely Shoshone (the Shoshone in this region called themselves “Newe”) have reservation land in the affected area, and both have been fighting the pipeline since it was first proposed. Rick Spilsbury, a Shoshone man from Ely, Nevada, led the tour, which began with Spring Creek, near Ibapah in Antelope Valley.

Spring Creek sustains a rich diversity of life. Rare Bonneville cutthroat trout swim in the creek and reservoir, elk come to drink, and many medicinal and edible plants grow in the riparian areas. Watercress lines the creek, and stinging nettles and wild rhubarb grow under the shade of the rocks where the water emerges. The stewardship of the Goshute has been integral in the return of Bonneville cutthroat to their native waters, and Spring Creek is essential in the restoration of the native fish population.[3]

About a dozen Goshute people went along this part of the tour, including young children transfixed by the sight of water springing straight from rock. The small stream cooled a channel through hot, dry air. The Goshute seemed especially quiet here, though all laughed when one of us held up a handful of old elk droppings, apparently thinking we didn’t know what they were. There seemed a lightness of heart to the mood, maybe because all felt that for the time being, the spring was safe.

Pond at Spring Creek and Deep Creek Range

Pond at Spring Creek and Deep Creek Range

SNWA suffered a major legal setback in December, 2013, when a Nevada District Court judge ruled that the State Engineer’s decision allowing the groundwater pumping was “arbitrary and capricious,” and also “criticized the proposed plan to monitor and take action if damage to the environment occurs and stated there must be scientific triggers.”[4] “Triggers” are events—such as the drying of springs or wells—that would force SNWA to cease pumping water and re-evaluate how it’s impacting an aquifer.

Before this ruling, SNWA wouldn’t even negotiate the possibility of triggers, according to tour guide Rick Spilsbury. Though SNWA has appealed, and other federal lawsuits against the project are pending, the overall outlook for now is good. As Spilsbury explained it, SNWA owns the water rights but because they’re locked in litigation, the water must legally stay put. However, he also cautioned that in the midst of this wave of good news is the bad news that weary pipeline opponents are becoming complacent.

It is important to remember that no success is guaranteed to last as long as industrial civilization stands. And any loss will be effectively permanent. Overdrawn aquifers will not return to their original states on timescales meaningful to humans. It’s possible to stop the SNWA pipeline, but if organized action doesn’t materialize before it’s too late, the effects are irreversible.

“My people have lived here sustainably for over 10,000 years,” said Spilsbury. “We want that for all of the Earth for another 10,000 years.”

From Spring Creek, the tour proceeded south through Antelope Valley into Spring Valley. Spring Valley would be mined for 61,127 acre feet of water annually (one acre-foot is enough water to cover an acre of land a foot deep—about 325,850 US gallons). Along with other valleys targeted for wells—Delamar, Cave, and Dry Lake—the project may produce 200,000 acre feet of water per year.

That night, we stopped to camp at Cleve Creek on the eastern edge of Spring Valley. We did not see any of the “Indian Petroglyphs” indicated on the map, but the place’s coolness, its cottonwoods and willows, its little gurgling creek, the distant tree-spotted meadows in the Schell Creek Range above, all spoke of its endurance and durability. The vestigial ice-age water below the surface—not so long ago, these valleys were long fjords of inland seas, the many mountain ranges slender peninsulas and islands—had a quiet language of its own, too. This quiet of the Great Basin is immense, sometimes intimidating. At Cleve Creek that night, as small thunderstorms came and went and birds and bats circled in the twilight, the calm was overwhelmingly of peace and security.

The conversation turned to the topic of bears and, as if the sky were participating, the clouds parted to reveal the constellation Ursa Major (the Great Bear), whose seven brightest stars are also known as the Big Dipper.

The next day we went further south through Spring Valley to the Swamp Cedars, a place that is both sacred and horrible to Goshute and Shoshone peoples. For many generations, this was a gathering place, trading ground, and ceremonial area. But only two generations ago, Mormon settlers and the U.S. cavalry attacked Newe gathered at this location.[5] Over a hundred people were killed in three massacres.

Sacred Water Tour, 2014

Sacred Water Tour, 2014

After paying our respects, admiring the rare ecology of a valley-floor forest in Nevada, and contemplating the sobering fact that this site is surrounded by SNWA test wells and is constantly threatened (a nearby wind farm was originally sited in the cedars), we proceeded further south.

After passing through Ely for resupply, long dirt roads carried us further south in sagebrush valleys between several mountainous wilderness areas (including Mount Grafton Wilderness). These remote, life-filled areas are threatened by the water grab as well.

In the heat of the afternoon, we dropped down to the West to Hot Creek Springs and Marsh Area, part of Kirch Wildlife Management Area. We visited Adams-McGill Reservoir, an oasis full of fish, flanked by many birds and lined with thick bulrush. A great blue heron waited nearby to show us that life can thrive in the desert—if there is water.

Kirch Wildlife Management Area

Kirch Wildlife Management Area

The endangered White River spinedace live in these waters, and are directly threatened by the proposed pipeline which would drain crucial habitat for the few remaining spinedace populations.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “A recent environmental impact statement for the proposed pipeline project disclosed that major vegetation and ecosystem changes would occur on more than 200,000 acres, including wetlands that will dry up and wildlife shrubland habitat converted to dryland grasses and noxious weeds. More than 300 springs would also be hurt, along with more than 120 miles of streams.”[6]

We headed back into Cave Valley via an extremely rough road, and we guessed that it rarely travelled. No place to break down. Even though the herd of wild horses we glimpsed knew where to find water out in these dry open valleys, there is no guarantee we could find drinking water. There are few perennial streams or springs. Most of the water is held in the ground, and the shallow groundwater brings life. Every drop of water counts. Water stolen means death to many of those who call this land home.

As the Goshute put it, “even a slight reduction in the water table will result in a cascade of wildlife and vegetation impacts directly harming our ability to engage in traditional practices of hunting, gathering, and fishing on ancestral lands. As our former Chairman Rupert Steele has pointed out; ‘if we lose our language or our lands, we will cease to be Goshute people.’ SNWA’s groundwater development application is the biggest threat to the Goshute way of life since European settlers first arrived on Goshute lands more than 150 years ago.”[7]

Before reaching our next camp in a small pass along the side of Cave Valley, we passed beneath the great tilted limestone peaks of the Schell Creek mountain range.

 Schell Creek Mountains

Schell Creek Mountains

Our campsite that evening, with views into two valleys threatened by SNWA, reminded us of what happened to the Owens River Valley in California after a water extraction project. The valley was turned into a desiccated, dusty landscape largely devoid of life.[8]

That evening, we watched the sunset—a vibrant backdrop of rust, fuschia, and vermillion—from a remote limestone bluff above the pass until the light faded and hunger and darkness drove us back to camp.

Great Basin sunset, Cave Valley

Great Basin sunset, Cave Valley

The sun rose bright on our final morning, cicada song rising in volume with the light. We drove east along several more valleys before dropping into Lake Valley, where SNWA has purchased several ranches. The largest ranch was scandalized when SNWA fired a ranch manager for sexually harassing a female employee. According to Spilsbury, the money-losing ranch is an unpopular venture for the semi-public water agency, even in Las Vegas.

The day was warming quickly, reminding us this desert isn’t always cold. Lake is a broader valley than the others, the mountain ranges lower and gentler than those just to the west. Here the distance felt lonelier, more desolate, yet grazing antelope and circling ravens made their ways through the heat and bright sun. We made a final stop at another SNWA test well, and found beetles and ants and many other subtle crawling things in the cow-burnt soil. A sign in the bulldozed perimeter read “restoration area” with no evident irony at all. We said goodbye, wondering what would happen next, what we could do. The fate of this land seems in the hands of lawyers and judges, where a city’s agents have squared off against the scattered peoples of the dry valleys who only seem to want to be left alone. This is the old weary story of civilization—of legitimized theft, of an inevitable trajectory of civilized human endeavor that always ends in ruin. Yet the land wants to live.

SNWA Test Well site, Cave Valley

SNWA Test Well site, Cave Valley

As long as the cities of civilization exist near these wild places of sage and sky, they will have their eyes on the water. Even with precious little water evident in the landscape and ecology of the dry valleys, the judge in the December court ruling has noted that the SNWA water-grab is “likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history”.[9] If the pipeline is approved the beautiful land will be permanently transformed into a dry dead place in the same way that other lands have been destroyed by this culture of extraction. As Derrick Jensen says, “Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.”[10]

DGR Southwest Coalition is searching for strategies to add defenses to the water and communities of the region. One possibility is being advanced by Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which “works with communities to establish Community Rights—such that communities are empowered to protect the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and the natural environment, and establish environmental and economic sustainability.”[11] We welcome any suggestions and offers to help; we also encourage you to join the yearly Sacred Water Tour next May.


[1] Michael Carter, “Groundwater Pipeline Threatens Great Basin Desert, Indigenous Groups,” Deep Green Resistance News Service, June 17, 2013,

[2] Stephen Dark, “Last Stand: Goshutes battle to save their sacred water,” Salt Lake City Weekly, May 9, 2012,

[3] US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Status Review for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout,” October 2001,

[4] Lukas Eggen, “Opponents of SNWA pipeline earn ‘complete victory’,” The Ely Times, December 13, 2013,

[5] Delaine Spilsbury, “Clark, Lincoln, and White Pine Counties Groundwater Development Project Public Comment,” October 5, 2011, Comments/Delaine Spilsbury 3.pdf

[6] Center for Biological Diversity, “Top 10 U.S. Endangered Species Threatened by Overpopulation,” October 28, 2011,

[7] Protect Goshute Water, “Southern Nevada Water Authority Groundwater Pumping & Pipeline Proposal,” The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, accessed June 24, 2014,

[8] Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert. New York: Viking Penguin, 1986.

[9] Rob Mrowka, “Lawsuit Filed to Halt Massive Las Vegas Water Grab: Pipeline Would Dry Up Springs and Wetlands, Hurt Fish, Sage Grouse, Pronghorn and Other Species” Center for Biological Diversity, February 12, 2014

[10] Derrick Jensen, Endgame (Volume I): The Problem of Civilization. New York: Seven Stories, 2006.

[11] Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, “Community Rights,” accessed June 25, 2014,

Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating

 Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition


What was my drink

My delicious addiction

That led to my oppression?

My drug of choice

I held in my hand

Was a glassful of depression.

—Carol Ann F., Vashon Island, Washington

If you watched any commercial television in the early 1990s, you may remember the Old Milwaukee beer ad featuring pleased men relaxing with a couple sixpacks, agreeing that “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Advertising has a way of being more effective the more farfetched it becomes, by way of memorable slogans and images rather than accuracy. Anyone who has tasted Old Milwaukee can assure you it does get better than this. But any dubious, subjective claim might still sell something, so long as buyers can at least pretend to believe it. Capitalism needs to make—at the very least—a hypothetical promise of fulfillment and anything so hard to come by is an easy sale, especially when it’s cheap and one is poor.

Because civilization requires class divisions to create a labor pool to do menial and dangerous work, so long as it exists there will always be those whose only contentment will come from some product or other. Television, alcohol, drugs, refined sugar, and gambling might head a list of such surrogates. If we see civilization as a vicious pyramid scheme and not the advanced condition of society that it claims to be, the role of chemical and media distractions in our lives becomes clear. If life doesn’t get any better than Old Milwaukee beer, then that is what we’ll buy. If eating is the closest thing to love we feel, then eat we will. And someone always wins the lottery, after all.

For many, substances and entertainment become not an augmentation to a satisfying life, but a substitute, and the effects vary widely from person to person and group to group. Alcohol has a much more devastating effect on those with little metabolic ability to process it, for example, and it’s an insidious process. The onetime casual drinker might find herself absorbed by a daily ten drinks. The occasional betting man may come to see his savings, house, and family vanish into a casino. Diversion often becomes addiction; self-medication transforms into crisis.

Clinical psychologist Janina Fisher summarizes this progression: “The first assumption is that any addictive behavior begins as a survival strategy: as a way to numb, wall off intrusive memories, self-soothe, increase hypervigilance, combat depression, or facilitate dissociating. The addiction results from the fact that these psychoactive substances require continual increases in dosage to maintain the same self-medicating effect and eventually are needed just to ward off physical and emotional withdrawal.”[1]

In our last essay[2] we reviewed the options available to the one in four US adults who suffer from a “diagnosable mental disorder,”[3] options that increasingly are dominated by psychiatric medications. While these popular drugs may be useful as a short-term remedy to severe problems, behavior and talk therapy appears to be more durable and less risky.[4] Yet given a choice between months or years of hard, introspective work and a pill that takes a second to swallow, it isn’t surprising that many take the shortcut. One out of three doctor’s office visits by women, for instance, include prescription of an antidepressant drug.[5]

Antidepressants and antipsychotics sales multiplied almost fifty times from 1985 to 2008, to $24.2 billion.[6] Sales of prescription antidepressants declined from $11.6 billion in 2010 to $11 billion in 2011;[7] by comparison, liquor sales hit $19.9 billion in 2011, up 4 percent from 2010.[8] And this is only in the US, where seventy-nine thousand deaths are blamed on alcohol annually and alcoholism is the third highest lifestyle-related cause of death. About 40 percent of US hospital beds not devoted to maternity and intensive care are occupied by someone with an alcohol-related illness.[9] Americans spend a lot of money on booze and its aftereffects.

Because most alcoholics will insist there is no problem—or at least no alcohol problem—it’s impossible to say whether a bottle of vodka is for harmless leisure or desperate treatment of a harrowing emotional emergency. Alcoholism is hard to define, and no one even clearly understands how alcohol works on the human body. Any addiction is hard to define. It could simply be something you can’t stop. The American Heritage Dictionary calls it “the condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something,” a “compulsive physiological or psychological need for a habit-forming substance.”

Most humans have a desire to feel good, to minimize pain and effort and maximize ease and pleasure. We also seem to enjoy repeated experiences; watch someone at a slot machine sometime, mechanically feeding coin after coin, eerily rapt. Who doesn’t want a sense of meaning and substance to their days, a feeling of profundity, or simply relief from worry and regret? These can be achieved through discipline, surrender of controlling behaviors and cultivation of new behaviors—all without damaging your body and mind—but you can also find a toxic mimic of peace of mind by medicating yourself with chemicals or passive, fabricated experiences. The latter options have a grim list of negative consequences, from liver cirrhosis to obesity to insanity, all of which distance the user from authenticity, adventure, and self-respect. Pornography and alcohol aren’t known for aiding good romantic relationships, and an oxycontin monkey on your back will not steer you to happiness. Yet the prevalence of addictive behavior and the damage it causes shows that many try anyway.

The Problem with Alcohol

Our own experience with chemicals varies widely, as it does with anyone: To pick alcohol as maybe the most common of civilization’s intoxicants, Hyatt has been good and drunk—staggering, vomiting—only twice in her life. Carter, on the other hand, never met a drink he couldn’t live with, or a cigarette he didn’t like. In his prime he could put away a six-pack of strong beer and a bottle of wine a night with only a faint headache the next day. Certainly by some definitions this is alcoholism. Though he hasn’t smoked for seven years or drank any alcohol for a year and a half, they remain for him substances with a lingering, obsessive attraction, a rueful glamorous draw. He can’t watch someone have a smoke without a mix of disgust and ragged envy. It doesn’t last long and it’s only a tiny struggle to get past the feelings, but they are there.

The problem with alcohol, an experienced therapist tells us, is that we put it in our mouths. Just like the problem with oil and coal is that we burn it. Until we engage with it, it just sits there, benign and innocuous; when we do engage it, it becomes a relationship. We don’t ordinarily think of interactions with chemicals to be relationships, so it’s hard to imagine “abusing” them. Do drug abusers punch their needles, yell at their pills? When people intentionally cut themselves, they’re not abusing the knife.

It’s more a question of how we choose to treat ourselves.  Consider a bad relationship you’ve been in. Remember the pattern of alternating moments of clinging and rejection, bliss and sour regret, warm contentment and self-loathing, sure belonging and desolate unworthiness. Once a relationship becomes abusive, it doesn’t stop being abusive, it only lingers and escalates, doing more damage. Power is being exerted in a bewilderingly damaging way.

Addiction may be the advanced condition of a toxic relationship, and the only way life improves then is to end the relationship. Any reforming alcoholic can tell you the attraction of living without alcohol isn’t in the absence of booze, the void where the relationship was; it’s in the promise of vitality, surprise, and freedom from intoxicated depression in new relationships.

The Anatomy of Avoidance

Our way of life, which we did not choose, requires most of us to spend most of our waking time at jobs that make us unhappy.[10] Our sense of optimism and interest in life erodes when what we want to do is usually subordinate to what we have to do. This is the baseline of civilized existence, the background circumstances. The amount of time spent at work is something humans haven’t evolved with—instead it is a condition that spread by conquest, like agriculture and industry. We are still creatures of the Paleolithic, leading lives based on entrapment by a contrived economy.

Add some everyday stressors: appointments, family conflicts, arguments with partners, fear of violence, illnesses, even small annoyances. If work weren’t a necessity—the bind nearly all civilized people are in—these stressors wouldn’t amount to much more than everyday matters easily resolved. If staying home and tending to a child’s illness didn’t get you fired, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. In healthy, intact indigenous cultures, light-heartedness is the normal condition.[11] In civilization, it’s a rarity, the most ephemeral enjoyment. It’s no wonder we avoid every hard task we can. Paradoxically, work itself is a highly acceptable method of avoidance, though a hard-driven capitalist can do more damage than a homeless crack addict could ever dream of.

This isn’t avoidance in the sense of swerving to avoid a car crash; instead, it’s a pattern of learned behavior, a way of responding to negative feelings. It’s our responses, rather than the negative feelings themselves, that determine our emotional condition. Emotional learning takes place whether perceived threats actually exist or not.[12] If you avoid bathing for fear of sharks in the tub, even if you know full well how irrational the fear is you still condition yourself to a response—you’re rewarded by the alleviation of your discomfort by not doing what it is you fear. But of course some problems remain, and grow.

Procrastination is a classic example of avoidance behavior that breeds anxiety because the thing we’re putting off continues to plague and unsettle. The perceived discomfort of resolution continues to escalate out of proportion to reality. How big a deal is it to wash the dishes? An extremely big deal, eventually. Pile on some more serious tasks like resolving an argument or a medical issue, and you have a mess easily soothed by booze, a pill, a casual hook-up (who hopefully doesn’t mind a reeking sinkful of dishes). These temporary fixes don’t resolve the problems, however. When they are habit forming and have their own destructive consequences, they become additional problems, also easy to mediate by simply continuing them. Problem drinkers know well that nothing fixes a hangover like the hair of the dog.

Avoidance becomes a part of your personality, and a way of life. It becomes more oppressive than all you’re avoiding; it demands your energy and attention, until you can feel it pressing in on you from outside, worrying itself from the inside. It nags and cajoles, urges quick solutions, makes self-serving promises. It is the parent of indifference, the older sibling to addiction. Apathy and numbing are defenses against the overwhelming anxiety formed by avoidance. For anyone working for social and environmental justice, where trauma and loss are everyday realities, avoidance can be very attractive, but eventually disastrous. How can anyone live fully in (let alone protect) the world if they are stuck in habits that lead to disconnection and withdrawal from the world?


Treatment Options

By the time an alcohol or drug problem becomes serious enough that it can’t be ignored, when a DUI or organ failure or intervention by others has forced it out of the protection racket of avoidance, the sufferer’s life is likely so compromised by damaged relationships and financial problems that finding the resources to deal with it can be extremely difficult. Until the advent of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1935, there was no very effective means of treating alcoholism. AA and its spinoffs—Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and others organized around the Twelve Steps principles of recovery—don’t offer a huge statistical hope of success, but they do offer some,[13] and are far better than the snake pit asylums that used to await chronic alcoholics.

Twelve Step groups and the spiritual, community-oriented recovery plan they use are controversial. The language of the Steps[14] sounds suspiciously Christian in tone, though in practice it’s entirely secular; no particular religious group sponsors AA. The organization holds that alcoholism is a disease, a view that’s strenuously objected to by other recovery approaches.[15]  The multiple methods now available are good news for addicts, who’d be well advised to be open to anything that might work. Scrutinizing the life preserver when you’ve gone down for the proverbial third time is as good a description of the insanity of addiction as any.

This doesn’t mean that any one thing or another will work, of course. AA members, well aware of how their message is often doubted, like to say “take what you need and leave the rest.” One therapist we talked with, skeptical of AA, nevertheless remarked that disliking AA is one of the best reasons to go to their meetings, because it makes you think about—and hopefully begin to understand—the nature of your problems. In this small space, we can offer only a quick analysis of Twelve Step programs; we think they’re well worth looking into for their widespread presence, emphasis on engagement with others, and group problem-solving. And they’re free.

There are no other settings we’re aware of where one can be well-understood, respectfully listened to, and given zero slack for rationalizing bullshit. Alcoholics tend to believe they’re some sort of tragically, perhaps terminally unique actors on a sadist’s stage, shat upon daily by an unjust god. Hearing the same experiences of others on a routine basis (newcomers to AA are encouraged to attend ninety meetings in ninety days) dissolves this addiction-serving worldview, and builds a sense of community and common interest with others where once only egocentrism and false pride stood.

Any member of the dominant culture could well use just such a transformation. Only the incremental deposing of assumed godlike power will rescue the biosphere from civilization. The experiences of wretched addicts, who have managed to surrender control, are relevant to all who wish to understand how this mechanism might work. Addiction is one of civilization’s options for hiding from responsibility, for staying in denial, for avoiding our duty to the living world. Recovery means finding a healthy way of listening to our anxieties and engaging with others to create and live a meaningful life.

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist. Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist. His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012. They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Alcoholics Anonymous. New York: AA World Services, 2001.

________. Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. New York: AA World Services, 1994.

Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize It and How to Respond. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.

Friends in Recovery. Edited by Kathleen W. 12 Steps to Freedom: A Recovery Workbook. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1991.

Fuller, Alexander.   “In the Shadow of Wounded Knee,” National Geographic, August 2012, 51.

Glendinning, Chellis. My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization. Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994.

Leventhal, Allan M. and Martell, Christopher R. The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

Peele, Stanton. Diseasing of America: Addiction Treatment out of Control.Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1989

Trimpey, Jack. Rational Recovery. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.

Villar, Oliver and Cottle, Drew. Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2011.


Rohith Sebastian, “A New Approach to Overcoming Psychological Disorders,” Psych Central, accessed May 7, 2014,

Kyung Jin Lee, “Capitalism Makes Us Crazy: Dr. Gabor Maté on Illness and Addiction,” TruthOut, June 1, 2013,

Jamie Doward, “Medicine’s big new battleground: does mental illness really exist?” The Observer, May 11, 2013,

Gabrielle Glaser, “Elizabeth Pena and the Truth About Alcoholic Women: Alcoholism and abuse is on the rise among women. Why they drink, and why the traditional treatment methods like A.A. don’t work for them,” The Daily Beast, October 24, 2014,

Corrinne Burns, “Are mental illnesses such as PMS and depression culturally determined?” The Guardian, May 20, 2013,

Medical University of Vienna, “Depression detectable in the blood: Platelet serotonin transporter function,” ScienceDaily, April 29, 2014,

Matthew Miller, MD, ScD1; Sonja A. Swanson, ScM2; Deborah Azrael, PhD1; Virginia Pate, PhD, PhD3; Til Stürmer, MD, ScD3, “Antidepressant Dose, Age, and the Risk of Deliberate Self-harm,” JAMA Intern Med., April 28, 2014,


[1] Janina Fisher, Ph.D., “Addictions and Trauma Recovery,” Paper presented at the International Society for the Study of Dissociation, November 13, 2000,

[2] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as a Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014,

[3] Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE, “Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R),” Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

[4] “Studies have shown that behavior therapy provides remedies that are longer-lasting and pose no concerns regarding side effects.” Leventhal and Martell, p. 137.

“A growing number of overdoses of legal opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers led to a 65 percent increase in hospitalizations over seven years,” Katherine Harmon, “Prescription Drug Deaths Increase Dramatically,” Scientific American, April 6, 2010, While not about psychiatric drugs in particular, this article does underscore the hazard in so many medications simply being at large, available for addictive use or accidental overdose and death.

[5] Leventhal and Martell, p. 135.

“Researchers say women are more likely to have depression and anxiety, while more men report substance abuse,” James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, 22 May 2013,

[6] John Horgan, “Are Psychiatric Medications Making Us Sicker?” Scientific American, March 5, 2012,

“Writing a prescription to treat a mental health disorder is easy, but it may not always be the safest or most effective route for patients, according to some recent studies and a growing chorus of voices concerned about the rapid rise in the prescription of psychotropic drugs,” Brendan L. Smith, “Inappropriate prescribing,” June 2012 Monitor on Psychology, June 2012, Vol 43, No. 6, print version: page 36,

[7] Craig W. Lindsley, “The Top Prescription Drugs of 2011 in the United States: Antipsychotics and Antidepressants Once Again Lead CNS Therapeutics,” ACS Chem. Neurosci., 2012, 3 (8), pp 630–631, August 15, 2012, The ACS is the American Chemical Society. The figures for drug sales are located on Table 2.

[8] Brad Tuttle, “Cheers! Increase in Liquor Sales Bodes Well for Economic Recovery,” Time, January 31, 2012,

[9]“Facts about Alcohol,” National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, accessed February 10, 2011,

[10] “According to the Gallup 2013 State of the American Workplace report, 52 percent of American full-time workers said they were ‘disengaged’ at work, meaning that they put time and effort into their work, but didn’t have energy or passion for it. Together, 70 percent of employees said they were either ‘disengaged’ or ‘actively disengaged,’ the latter term defining workers who openly express their discontent and undermine the efforts of their engaged colleagues. Just 30 percent of the workers polled said they felt ‘engaged’ at work, meaning they are ‘involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and contribute to their organization in a positive manner.’” Eli Epstein, “How many Americans are unhappy at work?” MSN News, June 25, 2013,

[11] “In one study, researchers used a storytelling technique to evaluate three groups of Kenyan women: rural women in a traditional village, poor urban women, and middle-class urban women…traditional women almost always told very positive stories that usually had a happy ending. Middle-class urban women told stories that emphasized their own power and competence. Poor urban women’s stories were generally tragic and focused on powerlessness and vulnerability. The researchers note that many poor urban women have ‘lost the security and protection of the old [traditional] system without gaining the power or rewards of the new system,’” Friedman, Ariellad and Todd, Judith. “Kenyan Women Tell a Story: Interpersonal Power of Women in Three Subcultures in Kenya.” Sex Roles 31: 533-546, in Nanda, Serena and Warms, Richard L.Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004, 387, 388.

[12] Leventhal and Martell, p. 82.

[13] “Accurate reports about the success rates of 12-step programs like AA and NA are notoriously difficult to obtain. The few studies that have attempted to measure the effectiveness of the program have often been contradictory. Fiercely protective of their anonymity, AA forbids researchers from conducting clinical studies of its millions of members. But the organization does conduct its own random surveys every three years. The result of AA’s most recent study in 2007 were promising. According to AA, 33 percent of the 8,000 North American members it surveyed had remained sober for over 10 years. Twelve percent were sober for 5 to 10 years; 24 percent were sober 1 to 5 years; and 31 percent were sober for less than a year,” Kevin Gray, “Does AA Really Work? A Round-Up of Recent Studies,” The Fix, January 29, 2012,

[14] “The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous: 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” A.A. World Services, Inc., May 9, 2002,‎

[15] “Peer-reviewed studies peg the success rate of AA somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. That is, about one of every fifteen people who enter these programs is able to become and stay sober. In 2006, one of the most prestigious scientific research organizations in the world, the Cochrane Collaboration, conducted a review of the many studies conducted between 1966 and 2005 and reached a stunning conclusion: ‘No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA’ in treating alcoholism. This group reached the same conclusion about professional AA-oriented treatment (12-step facilitation therapy, or TSF), which is the core of virtually every alcoholism-rehabilitation program in the country,” Lance Dodes and Zachary Dodes, “Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry,” excerpt in “AA and Rehab Culture Have Shockingly Low Success Rates,” AlterNet, April 2, 2014,

Peele, 1989.

Trimpey, 1996.

Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as a Social Construct


Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, DGR Southwest Coalition

In 2004 the World Health Organization ranked Major Depressive Disorder as the leading cause of disability in the US among people aged fifteen to forty-four.  MDD afflicts about 14.8 million adults, 6.7 percent of the U.S. population aged eighteen and older in a given year.[1]  The US National Institute for Mental Health estimates that one in four US adults “suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder.”[2]  Many see only one way out: nine in ten suicides—33,000 total in one year in the US alone—had one of these disorders.[3]  How can we explain this?  If the life of privilege and material wealth in the US and other consumer nations is so desirable that every living thing must pay the price for it, why kill yourself to escape it?  What if statistics like these were taken seriously, as a sign of preventable social malaise, not human frailty?  Suppose someone cared enough about all this misery to uncover a cause, and take steps to alleviate some of this pain.  Might that look like the same effort to end poverty, global warming, and the extinction crisis?

Sorting through these questions takes a lot of effort.  It’s hard to excise cultural training from our minds, banish it from our hearts, and fight it in the material world.  In our last essay,[4] we proposed naming the problem: civilization.  Civilization is thought to be synonymous with humanity, but we insist that it is not.  Instead, it is simply one of many possible cultural strategies, one that enables settlements too populous to sustain locally.  It requires agriculture, which itself can never be sustainable because it destroys topsoil.  To continue, civilization must constantly expand with economic and military domination, and will eventually consume the whole of the earth.  Virtually all injustice and environmental destruction is caused by this system.  Because of its total dominance over our lives, regardless of economic or social class, civilization is also the basis for our mental and emotional conditions.

To confront something so abstract and immense is very difficult, mostly because the required will is destroyed by the isolation, loneliness, and hopelessness this power structure creates in the first place.  The most destructive demand is perhaps work—the need to spend the majority of our waking time acquiring food, shelter, and any other necessities.  This is far more exertion than, say, when bird builds a nest and searches for seeds; it requires economic coercion, a way to police the workforce and the unemployed, and constant investments of effort unprecedented in the history of our species.  We didn’t invent this system and most of us wouldn’t willingly participate in it, given an authentic, noncoercive choice.  Yet we are still beings who make mistakes, can be emotionally volatile, and are prone to crippling addictions.  Just as civilization dictates our food, shelter, and productivity, it also explains our personal troubles and prescribes solutions.  These solutions generally serve the needs of civilization—of productivity—not people.

Disease Modeling and the DSM-5

It is widely believed that depression is a disease, a chemical imbalance in the brain.  Though this is only a theory with no physical evidence, it provides the basis for much of the available treatment.  The American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) classification handbook, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, or DSM-5, lists eighteen disorder categories, such as depressive disorders, schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, anxiety disorders, trauma- and stressor-related disorders, gender dysphoria, substance use and addictive disorders, and obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

Under these headings are more specific diagnoses, like “oppositional defiant disorder,” which is a “frequent, persistent pattern of angry/irritable mood, argumentative/defiant behavior, or vindictiveness exhibited over the course of at least six months, and with at least one non-sibling, and should exceed normal behavior for the individual’s age, gender and culture.”[5]  Since the APA is not interested in reforming culture, the categories outlined in the DSM-5 are by design things that are wrong with people.  Disorders, diseases, pathologies—however they’re labeled, they are considered problems of the individual, not society.  When someone is diagnosed with a mental illness, they are burdened with an authoritative, biased decision about what it is and how to treat it.

Commenting on the institutional view of depression as an illness best treated with medications, psychologists Allan Leventhal and Christopher Martell note that “psychiatry has a strong incentive to believe in the disease model and in the efficacy of drugs.  The pharmaceutical industry, like all corporations, has capital as its bottom line with the need for executives to report profits to investors.  Not only do we maintain that the disease model has created confusion by accounting for human distress as ‘medical illness,’ the increasingly corporate structure of the health care system, including pharmaceutical and managed care companies, has often favored profit over people.”[6]  The baseline isolation of the dominant culture makes us vulnerable to medical modeling, since it’s easier to explain away emotional pain as having a physical cause than to discuss it openly.  Leventhal and Martell point out that additionally, behavioral change is hard and psychotherapy “rarely progresses in a straight line.”[7]  The shortcut of a pill is an appealing alternative.  Rather than truly helping people to heal from the effects of negative experiences, disease modeling can create lifelong “mental patients” with a firmly embedded concept that they have something permanently wrong with them.

This is not, however, meant to invalidate or minimize the pain of those afflicted with depression, or any of the various conditions outlined by the DSM-5.  Though neither of the authors have ever experienced severe depression, we have both felt the dismal, seductive edges of it.  We have never taken psychiatric medications, though we’ve both spent a lot of time in various methods of therapy.  Fortunately we both found relief, in Carter’s case from moderate depression and chemical dependency, and in Hyatt’s, from post-traumatic stress disorder.  Carter’s daily thoughts of suicide—though never any attempts—were related to routine decisions and habitual, repetitive thinking, not a disease.  He needed no medications, but rather a new approach to managing his thoughts and actively engaging with situations and relationships.  Hyatt was offered supplemental anti-depressants as a matter of course for a completely unrelated autoimmune disorder, on the assumption that depression is an expected result of a distressing medical diagnosis.  Refusing the drugs, she lived with her feelings instead of chemically suppressing them.  They taught her their lesson and eventually passed.

There is no doubt that psychiatric drugs can be helpful in some situations.  But the often-lifelong prescription of a substance chemically related to rocket fuel[8] is something to be scrutinized.  That antidepressants are commonly found in drinking water[9] should also be reason to reconsider them.  Medicine is a lucrative business, and treatments are prescribed by doctors who may be strongly influenced by the primacy of pharmaceuticals in the medical industry (including education); these factors are often lost on those who can barely gather the energy to leave their darkened rooms.

Identifying the cause of the misery is hard, perhaps impossible—there may never be a way to disprove the disease hypothesis—but that doesn’t mean that other hypotheses can’t be made, and successful, non-drug treatments can’t be found.  As the Coalition for DSM-5 Reform, critics of the manual and its approaches, point out: “…clients and the general public are negatively affected by the continued and continuous medicalization of their natural and normal responses to their experiences; responses which undoubtedly have distressing consequences which demand helping responses, but which do not reflect illnesses so much as normal individual variation.”[10]

The Coalition also alleges that the DSM-5 misses “the relational context of problems and the undeniable social causation of many such problems,” and that the “[diagnostic] criteria are not value-free, but rather reflect current normative social expectations.”  In other words, if a psychiatrist says you have a problem, that’s a subjective judgment based on cultural conditions—for example, that most people are obedient to power.  To treat our feelings—of depression, of defiance, of hopelessness—as strictly physical or biological conditions to be chemically erased if uncomfortable is to dishonor our instincts.  There are other, durable solutions that don’t involve the unknown risks and unpleasant side effects[11] of psychiatric drugs.

Redefining Healthy Behavior in a Toxic System

Depression indicates a serious lack of confidence in a worthwhile life, a powerlessness over one’s prospects.  It is not so much the opposite of happiness but of vitality.  Leventhal and Martell propose that depression “is the result of life events, negative responses to life events, avoidance of negative emotion, and the limitations on life that avoidance creates.”[12]  There are even some mainstream notions that depression may actually be beneficial.  One 2012 health magazine article reports that symptoms of depression may be evolutionary adaptations that force people to focus on problems and solve them.  J. Anderson Thomson, MD, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, compares depression to pain, a signal that part of you needs help.  If the pain is bad enough, you will cry out, a call for help from others.  Depression may also be a way of calling for help.  “Depression tells you there’s a problem, tells you where the problem is, stops business as usual, and signals others that you are in distress,” explains Thomson.[13]

It is helpful to remember that our lives are arranged by institutions that are based on power, not care, and psychiatry is one of them.  The aim of power is to control—by force or coercion, or even better for us to control ourselves.  For example, labels affect our behavior; if we think our brain is imbalanced or defective, we will tend to behave that way.  If we consider ourselves diseased, we’ll act diseased, and may instinctively isolate ourselves from others.  Buying into the disease label for depression can exacerbate the problem by driving our isolation deeper and fostering a desperate faith in drugs.

Behavior that is considered normal by civilization—predatory self-interest, say—is considered insane outside of the context of civilization.  This behavior is created by the denial of basic human nature, such as a desire to feel a part of a mutual-interest culture.  If we consider the idea that many symptoms of so-called mental disorders are natural responses of our minds and bodies to an unhealthy, isolating social system, we can then redefine healthy behavior outside of civilization.  We can start to make a conscious effort to reconstruct healthy behavior, remembering that the definitions of healthy, normal, and abnormal behavior have been made by those who have power over us.  We can begin to work according to our interests and not theirs.  We can reclaim control over our lives and restore confidence and trust in our human nature.

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist.  Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist.  His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012.  They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Allan M. Leventhal and Christopher R. Martell, The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Awais Aftab, MD, MBBS, “Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5,” Psychiatric Times, February 28, 2014,

Bruce E Levine, “Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways – But Can It Change?” Truthout, March 5, 2014,

Ethan Watters, “We Aren’t the World,” Pacific Standard, February 25, 2013,

John Read, Claire Cartwright, and Kerry Gibson, “Adverse emotional and interpersonal effects reported by 1829 New Zealanders while taking antidepressants,” Psychiatry Research, February 18, 2014,

Madeline Vann, MPH, medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH, “Is Depression Good for You?” Everyday Health, April 4, 2012,

Michael G Conner, “Privileged Children at Greater Risk,” InCrisis, December 13, 2008,


[1] “The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed February 8, 2014,

“The global burden of disease: 2004 update, Table A2: Burden of disease in DALYs by cause, sex and income group in WHO regions, estimates for 2004,” The World Health Organization, accessed February 6, 2014,

[2] Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

[3] “More than 90 percent of people who kill themselves have a diagnosable mental disorder, most commonly a depressive disorder or a substance abuse disorder.  The highest suicide rates in the U.S. are found in white men over age 85.  Four times as many men as women die by suicide9; however, women attempt suicide two to three times as often as men.”  “The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed February 8, 2014,

[4] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, February 6, 2014,

[5] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013, pp. 461–480.

[6] “Americans [spend] 200 billion dollars a year on prescription drugs.  In 2001, while the median net return for all other industries was a little more than 3 percent of sales, it was more than 18 percent for the drug companies.  Dr. Angell points out that the combined profits of the 10 drug companies listed in the Fortune 500 was more than the cumulative profits of the other 490 companies listed…these companies spend more on marketing and administration than on research and development.”  Allan M. Leventhal and Christopher R. Martell, The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006, p. 27-28.

[7] Ibid, p. 28.

[8] Ibid, p 34.

[9] Harvard Medical School, “Drugs in the water,” Harvard Health Publications, June 2011,

[10] “Summary of Concerns Regarding the DSM-5 as Currently Proposed,” Coalition for DSM-5 Reform, accessed February 17, 2014,

[11] “[Researchers] concluded that neither [tri-cyclic antidepressants and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)] demonstrated greater efficacy than placebo in the treatment of depression for children and adolescents.  Yet until recent alarming reports on the induction of suicidal behaviors by SSRIs, prompted by the urging of the drug industry, primary care doctors and pediatricians increasingly prescribed antidepressants to children and adolescents.  Between 1988 and 1994, there was a three- to fivefold increase in antidepressant medication treatments for children ages 2 to 19.”  Allan M. Leventhal and Christopher R. Martell, The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006, p. 44.  Other side effects of the medications include sexual dysfunction, increased agitation and homicidal urges, diarrhea, nausea, insomnia, and headaches (pp. 51-52).

[12] Ibid, p. 131.

[13]  Madeline Vann, MPH, medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH, “Is Depression Good for You?” Everyday Health, April 4, 2012,

The article suggests “7 Ways Depression Makes You Stronger”: You’re a better problem-solver; you learn how to cope; you have better relationships; you’re more compassionate; you buck stress; you’re a realist; you can detect deception. “‘Depression is part of the design of human nature, and just because it’s painful doesn’t mean it’s bad or without its uses,’ Thomson says.”

Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System

  Screenshot of Amanda Todd's YouTube video, My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm posted before her suicide in October 2012.

Screenshot of Amanda Todd’s YouTube video, My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm posted before her suicide in October 2012.

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, DGR Southwest Coalition

The environmental crisis consists of the deterioration and outright destruction of micro and macro ecosystems worldwide, entailing the elimination of countless numbers of wild creatures from the air, land, and sea, with many species being pushed to the brink of extinction, and into extinction. People who passively allow this to happen, not to mention those who actively promote it for economic or other reasons, are already a good distance down the road to insanity. Most people do not see, understand, or care very much about this catastrophe of the planet because they are overwhelmingly preoccupied with grave psychological problems. The environmental crisis is rooted in the psychological crisis of the modern individual. This makes the search for an eco-psychology crucial; we must understand better what terrible thing is happening to the modern human mind, why it is happening, and what can be done about it.

—Glenn Parton, “The Machine in Our Heads”

A thesaurus entry for “inhuman” includes cruel, brutal, ruthless, and cold-blooded.  If one is merciless, callous, and heartless, one is the very opposite of human, the antithesis of what it means to be a standard example of Homo sapiens sapiens.  If being human means we are for the most part kind-hearted, compassionate, and sensitive creatures, then the destruction of the planet—“the deterioration and outright destruction of micro and macro ecosystems worldwide…the elimination of countless numbers of wild creatures from the air, land, and sea,” goes against humanness.  It’s a product of something against our nature, an anti-human system.

We propose a name for this system: civilization.  While civilization connotes nurturing, safe, and supportive conditions synonymous with humanity itself, we maintain that the great paradox of this age is that civilization is the opposite of all these things.  Civilization must consume whole biomes of living things—including humans—to concentrate the material wealth needed to support human populations too large to be sustained by their immediate surroundings.  Because the planet’s resources are finite and there are no perpetual means of running the modern economy—no replacement for the fossil fuels needed for industry, no New World of topsoil to extract agricultural food from—we are living in a time when a single way of life, a particular cultural strategy is based on eventual total consumption.   This culture isn’t widely perceived as being fundamentally reckless or harmful, but for our purposes here the negative effect of modern, industrial civilization on the biosphere is a given.[1]  Our aim is to examine the mental and emotional health of civilized people, how this drives the cultural strategy of civilization, and how those who oppose it might best fortify their mental and emotional defenses.

Individualism as Isolation

In the US, where most resource consumption takes place,[2] the overarching importance of the individual is a hallmark myth.  Not that US citizens don’t enjoy a comparable amount of political and personal freedom—though this is eroded day by day—but rather it’s a part of our national consciousness that US citizens are free to do what they wish within a very reasonable framework of Constitutionally balanced rules.  The effect of being alone to fend for one’s self, though, has much more to do with insecurity and dependence than it does personal liberty.

By isolating individuals and glamorizing independence, people can then be easily groomed for fealty to power.  We grew up pledging allegiance to a flag and can name the tune of the national anthem in three notes; more immediately most of us depend on someone else writing a paycheck for our sustenance.  Nevertheless we like to think of ourselves as a nation of individualists.  This is easy to believe.  It allows us to feel good about ourselves regardless of accomplishment or character by the expedient of being born here.

Yet our material well-being requires a tremendous amount of power over other nations, peoples, and species; this power can only be exerted by institutions whose behavior isn’t governed at all by our own personal sense of justice or fair play.  We have nearly no say in the conduct of states and corporations, and so long as we can pretend our inherent merit as US citizens, their conduct can usually be denied or ignored.  They do our job, we do ours: that’s the American Way.  Keeping this order is relatively easy; just laying claim to an abstract, inspirational word can suffice.  The company responsible for the January, 2014 chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River was named “Freedom Industries.”

Image credit: Ty Wright for the Washington Post

Image credit: Ty Wright for the Washington Post

Nationalism is only an example of this wider condition.  The arbitrary advantage of US citizenship can be compared to the advantages of being male, or white, or wealthy; they all depend onpowerful organizations that exist for their own reasons, and mine our lives for their power as surely as they mine mountains for coal.  Notions of individual, national, race, or gender virtue serve their goals (of accumulating wealth and power) by masking our exploited condition with a sense of deserved good fortune.  Those in power hide behind emotionally potent ideas like freedom that relatively privileged groups are eager to protect.  It’s only chance to be born a white male American, yet plenty of them volunteer for militaries that supposedly defend freedom.  Far fewer would volunteer to die for oil company profits, though many of them inadvertently do.

Individuality is a valuable trait, especially in a culture devoted to cultivating oblivious consumer and sacrificial classes.[3]  But its value in overcoming blind conformity and vacuous rewards can become idealized as an end unto itself—individualism.  When civilized power is essentially inescapable, a foundering ship, individuality seems to restore a sense of personal worth and even social sanity.  Yet individuality is more like a life preserver than the sailboat of a sustainable and independent culture—perhaps useful, but doing little to affect the power over our lives.  When it becomes indoctrinated as individualism, it can actually benefit those in power because of its mistrust of group belonging that stifles organizing.  The demonizing of labor unions is a classic example.

Our mostly unrecognized dilemma is that we’re physiologically “primitive” social animals living under the rule of a dictatorial, isolating, extraction culture.  Unless we are able to participate in it, we’re shunted into extremely uncomfortable conditions of poverty and wretchedness, scavenging the carcasses left by agriculture and industry.  The authors, Hyatt and Carter, are relatively wealthy by global standards, with our access to the resources that civilization has up for sale.  Yet we live mostly hand to mouth.  There is very little in the way of socially stabilized security in our lives.  If we stop working for a month or two the kitchen cabinets quickly empty; stop work for a while more and we’re evicted from our homes.  Because we aren’t allowed to fashion a comfortable dwelling from the wild and freely hunt or gather our food, we must join in working for it, which means we must consume gasoline, industrial food, and electricity.  None of these things will remain available forever.  More urgently, there is about forty-one years of topsoil left,[4] and without topsoil, there will be no food for anyone or anything.  Ultimately, civilization has undermined all security, for everyone.

Human beings tend to want consistency, and their organizations tend to conserve the status quo.  The idea of “behaviorally modern” humans, creatures on a progressive trajectory, has no real physical evidence.[5]  We are creatures of the Paleolithic, identical to people of at least 190,000 years ago.[6]  Our brains and bodies are those of people who hunted animals with stone-pointed spears and lived in clan or tribal groups.  There was no spontaneous human revolution that changed that.  Cities and the industries needed to support their regionally unsustainable appetites did not arise simultaneously from the sum of individual impulses for toil and control, but rather spread by resource warfare.[7]  What we see now is the global dominance of a single, war- and extraction-dependent social strategy.  Paradoxically this seemingly unifying strategy instead isolates us, picking us apart from the close-knit and small scale cultures our ancestors evolved to form.  Even if we’re lucky enough to have a close family or uncommonly good friends, we are all expected to more or less make it on our own.  Our health can’t help but be affected by that dramatic change.  It is critical for anyone working for social justice and sustainability to recognize this.

Defying Social Order

Because of the inherent injustice involved with work, where lower social and economic classes must be maintained to do dangerous or menial labor, it takes denial and silence to keep civilization running.  Confronting social and environmental injustice necessarily begins with breaking denial and silence.  This can be very hard to do, as anyone who has broken free of any abusive situation knows.  Our own avoidance tendencies can be strong and impossible even to see, and our human animal selves shy from the fear of standing up to those with power over us.  The elaborate structures of power now in place are so immense and deeply embedded that defiance of them seems ludicrous and foolhardy, the very definition of quixotic.  The system’s many dependents and hired goons stand behind them, no matter how atrocious its actions.  Attack Freedom Industries, you may as well attack freedom itself.  So of course most people never will.

For those who are willing to fight back, anger at injustice can make us think we can defy unjust systems by social transgression, such as alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, petty crime, and other self-destructive practices.  In reality, these are enactments of civilization which encourage us to hate ourselves and to reproduce our own subordination.  Self-harm and isolated disobedience does the police work of oppression, essentially for free, as a kind of safety valve.  Just as it’s too much for individuals to be burdened with systemic problems, defying social order is an overwhelming task for one person.  Serious resistance requires a community, and a healthy community requires us to make internalized oppression visible.  It is helpful to remember that many of our troubles aren’t our own fault, but are necessary creations of civilization, meant to keep us enslaved.

The contrived circumstances we live under are full of paradoxes and confusion; it’s easy to fall into despair and apathy.  The dominant culture that is consuming the world—and any chance of a sane and intact society—demands our time and loyalty, and it’s far easier to give them up than to fight.  A paradox that can help is realizing we must take care of ourselves to be ready and able to take care of anything or anyone else.  This seems counter to the impulses of altruism that often drive activists, but it really isn’t.  Warriors must eat, they must have some sense of support and approbation; if this doesn’t come from their toxic society, it must come from somewhere else.  The energy, endurance, and courage it takes to stop a coal mine cannot itself be mined from our bodies and spirits, leaving us empty, but rather must be cultivated and maintained as living things.

In his early years of activism, Carter spent a great deal of time and money fighting National Forest timber sales in a conservative Montana community where environmentalists were mostly ridiculed and hated outright.  His colleagues were scattered and remote, usually also alone.  He believed himself an appeal-writing machine, and fueled his effort with alcohol and a carbohydrate-heavy vegetarian diet.  Eventually the pressure and isolation exhausted his ability to keep up his work, and the self-abuse didn’t become visible for years.

Civilization, based on power-over, undermines our sense of self and our meanings for existence.  Nearly every child is raised in some form of domestic captivity under civilization, and many continue to be victimized by control and dominance, resulting in what psychiatrist Judith Herman calls Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).[8]  Traumatic events make us question basic human relationships; we lose a sense of belonging, and our lives fill with stress and loneliness.  Women in this culture often experience further trauma as the victims of male violence.  In Hyatt’s case, male violence left her with undiagnosed PTSD for over three years; the medical industry offered pills and relaxation techniques to cover up the symptoms.  This is the typical solution offered by modern medicine: one that blames the individual and isolates us further.  No one has to be passively victimized by institutional pressure, though; people can be responsible for themselves, for the predictable consequences of their actions and choices.  This doesn’t mean anyone has to take on what isn’t theirs—a recovery plan that favors pharmaceutical companies, for instance.

A healthier strategy is to value our response to trauma.  The symptoms of PTSD, such as avoidance, emotional numbing, self-blame, and helplessness, are reasonable reactions to an inhuman system.  PTSD sufferers have been so traumatized that we often blame ourselves for our symptoms.  Active resistance reduces the feeling of despair and helplessness.  Resistance even reduces the feeling of humiliation brought on by toleration of abuse and the humiliation in feeling we are to blame for the trauma.  Recovery requires that we retell our trauma stories and engage with a healthy community, which can be hard to find.  Support groups such as Al-anon and Alcoholics Anonymous may be a helpful place to start.

Remember that civilization is the root cause of trauma.  By contrast, non-coercive cultures have few mental health disorders.  Bruce Levine notes that “Throughout history, societies have existed with far less coercion than ours, and while these societies have had far less consumer goods and what modernity calls ‘efficiency,’ they also have had far less mental illness. This reality has been buried, not surprisingly, by uncritical champions of modernity and mainstream psychiatry.”[9]

Building a resistance to fight for social justice and sustainability might begin with attentive self-care and a dignified, gentle, and supportive culture.  In the essays that follow, we’ll examine the effects of civilized society on mental and emotional health, and explore ways of bolstering our health and well-being so we may ready ourselves to fight.  Addiction, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all conditions Hyatt and Carter have personally experienced and emerged from intact.  It is our hope that our history and study will aid resisters in their own personal engagement and public struggle, that they may emerge intact and successful.

John Trudell said, “We understand the pollution of the air, of the water, we understand the pollution of the environment has come from this plundering and mining of the planet in an irresponsible manner.  But you think about every fear, every doubt, every insecurity, every way that we ever beat ourselves up inside of our own heads — that is the pollution left over from the mining of our spirit.”  As activists, we must question not only the logic of a culture that consumes its own future—eradicating the soil, water, and atmosphere needed for life—we must question the system and culture that leads to addiction, abuse, and hopelessness; the destruction of our very living self.

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist.  Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist.  His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012.  They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

[1] Madhusree Mukerjee, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” Scientific American, May 23, 2012,

“Has Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Already Arrived?” University of California—Berkeley, as reported in Science Daily, March 5, 2011,

These are only approximately representative examples; many more can be found with the most casual perusal of the daily news.  Because it’s so continual and overwhelming, it tends to escape public attention.

[2] “While the consumer class thrives, great disparities remain. The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.”  “The State of Consumption Today,” Worldwatch Institute, January 8, 2014,

 [3] Stephanie McMillan, “Strengthen Collectivity: Combat Individualism,” New Ideas Proletarian Ideas, March 30, 2013, for further reading on the subject of individuality and individualism.

 [4] John B. Marler and Jeanne R. Wallin, “Human Health, the Nutritional Quality of Harvested Food and Sustainable Farming Systems,” Nutrition Security Institute, 2006, accessed January 13, 2014,

 [5] “There are no such things as modern humans, Shea argues, just Homo sapiens populations with a wide range of behavioral variability. Whether this range is significantly different from that of earlier and other hominin species remains to be discovered. However, the best way to advance our understanding of human behavior is by researching the sources of behavioral variability in particular adaptive strategies.”  John J. Shea, “Homo Sapiens is as Homo Sapiens was: Behavioral Variability vs. ‘Behavioral Modernity’ in Paleolithic Archaeology,” Current Anthropology 2011; 52 (1): 1, as reported in Science Daily, February 15, 2011,

John J. Shea, “Homo Sapiens is as Homo Sapiens was: Behavioral Variability vs. ‘Behavioral Modernity’ in Paleolithic Archaeology,” Current Anthropology 2011; 52 (1): 1,

[6] “Fossil Reanalysis Pushes Back Origin of Homo sapiens,” Scientific American, February 17, 2005,

[7] Thomas B. Bramanti, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M.N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, and J. Burger, “Europe’s First Farmers were Immigrants: Replaced Their Stone Age Hunter-gatherer Forerunners.”  Science 2009, DOI: 10.1126/science.1176869,  as reported in Science Daily, September 4, 2009,

This is one reference among many that underscores that agriculture and the cultures it supports did not “arise” worldwide as of some spontaneous awakening, but rather was spread by conquest.

[8] “What happens if you are raised in captivity? What happens if you’re long-term held in captivity, as in a political prisoner, as in a survivor of domestic violence?” Judith Herman, M.D.  Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence—from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror.  New York: Basic Books, 1997.  See pages 74-95 for more information on captivity and C-PTSD.  

[9] Bruce Levine, Ph.D., “Societies With Little Coercion Have Little Mental Illness,” Mad in America, August 30, 2013,