Endgame Premises Archives: 3: Civilization is based on violence

Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on,
requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread
violence.

Visit the global 3: Civilization is based on violence archives for posts from all DGR sites.

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.

Origins

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.

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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]

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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.

Definitions

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]

AnxietyDisorders-CognitiveBiasesTowardThreat

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.

Remedies

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.

Online

Awais Aftab, MD, MBBS, “Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5,” Psychiatric Times, February 28, 2014, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/dsm-5-0/mental-illness-vs-brain-disorders-szasz-dsm-5#sthash.hA4QwWSp.wptbyJ4M.dpuf

James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

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, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163902.htm

Levine, Bruce E., “Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways—But Can It Change?” Truthout, March 5, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22266-psychiatry-now-admits-its-been-wrong-in-big-ways-but-can-it-change

Moore, Heidi, “Little surprise here: women expected to do more at home—and at work,” The Guardian, November 1, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/women-work-harder-favors-never-counted?CMP=twt_gu

Nauert, Rick, PhD., and Grohol, John M., Psy.D., “Beyond Antidepressants: Taking Stock of New Treatments,” Psych Central, February 18, 2014, http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/02/18/beyond-antidepressants-taking-stock-of-new-treatments/66071.html

Endnotes

[1] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, February 6, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/02/06/restoring-sanity-part-1-an-inhuman-system/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, May 20, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/05/20/restoring-sanity-part-3-medicating/

[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, http://www.nutritionsecurity.org/PDF/NSI_White%20Paper_Web.pdf

[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, http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/05/engendering-psychiatric-disease-what.html

[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, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/know-your-mind/201306/the-stressed-sex-1

[9] James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

[10] Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman, “Let’s talk about the gender differences that really matter – in mental health”, The Guardian, Dec 13, 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/dec/13/gender-differences-mental-health

[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, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/

[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, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[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,” http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/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, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/anxiety-stress-difference_n_1152590.html

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

[18] “Anxiety Disorders,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed October 6, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

[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, http://www.existentialanalysis.org.uk/assets/articles/Understanding_and_Coping_with_Anxiety_Rollo_May_transcription_Martin_Adams.pdf

[21] “Indicators of Ecological Collapse,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed October 1, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/why-resist/ecological-collapse

[22] Madhusree Mukerjee, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” Scientific American, May 23, 2012, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=apocalypse-soon-has-civilization-passed-the-environmental-point-of-no-return

“Species Disappearing at an Alarming Rate, Report Says. Watchdog Releases Annual ‘Red List,’ Warns Extent is Underestimated,” MSNBC.com, November 17, 2004, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6502368/ns/us_news-environment/t/species-disappearing-alarming-rate-report-says/#.T06Tsnn8l2I

[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, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml#pub8

[24] Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/.

 

Stand with Indigenous Peoples, Stop the Pipelines

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance
Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article.  The following Editor’s Note is theirs.

Editor’s Note: This week SD Free Press will be re-posting past articles relevant to our War and Peace theme. Given that Mary Landrieu (D- Gonna lose her senate seat) is asking for a vote on the XL Pipeline during the lame duck session, we thought this was appropriate. 

As so often happens, Native Americans are leading the fight to save the world.

Moccasins on the Ground workshop where participants are trained in the skills, tactics, and techniques of nonviolent direct action.

By Will Falk

While half of the world’s species are disappearing, while the remaining 48 hunter/gatherer societies are literally fighting for their survival, while 32 million acres of rainforest are cut down a year, and while three hundred tons of topsoil are lost a minute, we are again at war with those who would destroy the planet.

There have been many wars fought on behalf of our life-giving land in North America. The overwhelming majority of those killed in defense of the land have come from peoples like the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Nez Perce, the Sauk, and the Apache. Native Americans have long stood in the way of this destructive culture. It is time that we join with Native Americans and other dominated peoples around the world who are at war. It is time that we, the privileged in this settler culture, step off our pedestal and onto the battlefield to place our bodies in harm’s way like so many indigenous people have before us and continue to do today.

***

As a young white radical, I have admired the long traditions of resistance found in Native communities. I find myself wondering what could have been had Tecumseh won or if Crazy Horse was not betrayed. I find myself wishing I could have been there with Geronimo or King Phillip or Chief Joseph to shoot back at the pale skin and pale blue eyes I share with so many of the soldiers, miners, and settlers who have butchered Native peoples over the centuries.

But, mostly, my heart just breaks. And breaks and breaks again when I recall the long list of lost battles and cold-blooded massacres.

My heart breaks when I think of that frigid morning in December, 1890 when Lakota Sioux led by Spotted Elk woke up next to Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota to find themselves surrounded by 500 soldiers of the US 7th Cavalry. Some of the older women and the frailest children would have been wrapped in robes made from the skins of buffalo hunted to near extinction by the very soldiers taking positions over the camp.

They look up at the four rapid fire Hotchkiss guns pointed down on them from the hills above with their frosty breath foreshadowing the thick fog of gun smoke that would blanket the field in just a little while.

My heart breaks again looking at the photographs of Lakota men, women, and children strewn across the frozen ground. I see Spotted Elk’s body frozen in a half-sitting position in the snow. His legs bent one way, and his bullet-riddled torso bent another way. His arms curl up as his dead biceps tighten in the cold.

indigenous1My heart breaks when I read eyewitness accounts from the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864 where Colorado-territory militia killed 200 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women, and children who thought they occupied their camp under the protection of the US Army. I read of soldiers putting six-shooters to the heads of infants and “blowing their brains out.” I watch as white men jump off their horses with knives in hands to cut ears, noses, fingers, and testicles off corpses to take home as souvenirs.

***

Lierre Keith, the brilliant environmental and radical feminist writer, often diagnoses the problem with modern mainstream environmental activism saying, “We’ve got to stop thinking like vandals and start thinking like field generals.”

If we are to have any chance of surviving the devastation, we must espouse courses of action based on strategic objectives. In other words, we have to act like we’re fighting to win a war.

Even mainstream environmentalists recognize that one of the biggest threats to life on Earth is the use of fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide – the worst of the greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change. Scientists predict an 11 degree Fahrenheit average temperature rise by 2100 due to the effects of runaway greenhouse gas emissions.

If we are going to win this war of survival, we are going to have to stop both the present use and spread of fossil fuels. Many argue that the task is impossible. Many argue that we’ll never get people to voluntarily give up fossil fuels. We fill our cars with gas. Homes are heated by coal. The plastic screens we read the daily news on are made with oil. Giving up fossil fuels means giving up our very way of life.

But, what if the world is forced to give up fossil fuels because they cannot get access to them?

***

indigenous3The truth is the fate of the world is bound up in wars like the ones being fought by the Sioux and their allies and the Wet’suwet’en. The United States was built on stolen land and is maintained through the theft of indigenous resources both at home and abroad. So, not only should mainstream environmentalists pledge their support to indigenous peoples to reverse genocidal historical trends, they should throw their bodies down next to indigenous peoples in order to survive.

The brutally brilliant Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest explained the simple key to winning battles when he said, “Get there first with the most.” On a Civil War battlefield, this meant identifying strategic locations to be controlled and then arriving with more soldiers and firepower than your enemy. At the Battle of Gettysburg, for example, Union forces recognized the way two hills – Little and Big Round Top – on their extreme left flank commanded a view of the entire battlefield. Robert E. Lee and his right hand infantry general, James Longstreet, recognized it, too. Whoever controlled those hills could place artillery on their heights and rain deadly cannon fire on enemies in the fields below.

Ultimately, Union forces arrived at the top Little Round Top just minutes before Longstreet’s infantry and were able to beat off a Confederate attack, turning the tide of the battle in favor of Union forces in what many historians call the pivotal moment of the entire war.

The goals of these camps line up perfectly with Forrest’s idea to “get there first with the most.” The camps are being set up in strategic locations to stop the ability of the pipeline to function. If the oil is going to flow, big oil pipelines are going to have to defeat activists dug in at these camps.

Right now, indigenous peoples and their allies are there first with the most. They can win if we help them.

***

As so often happens, Native Americans are leading the fight to save the world. Battle lines are being drawn in British Columbia and South Dakota where indigenous peoples and their allies have vowed to prevent the construction of pipelines carrying fossil fuels across their lands.

In South Dakota, the Oglala Lakota and Rosebud Sioux (many of whom descend from the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre) are building resistance camps to combat the Keystone XL pipeline. They are calling the pipeline “the Black Snake” and are operating the Moccasins on the Ground project where participants are trained in the skills, tactics, and techniques of nonviolent direct action. These skills include blockading heavy equipment, workshops on strategic media, street medic training, knowing your legal rights with respect to civil disobedience, and building solidarity and alliances.

In British Columbia, the Wet’suwet’en have dug into the path of seven proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and LNG from the Horn River Basin Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region at Unist’ot’en Camp.  Unist’ot’en Camp is calling for volunteers to help patrol their land, build permaculture, and raise permanent bunkhouses in the path of the pipelines.

***

There’s another feeling I get when I think of the massacres of indigenous peoples. It is even stronger than the staggering sadness. It is the desire to do whatever it takes to stop this culture from destroying indigenous cultures and destroying the land.

I used to imagine that I could go back in time and offer my help. I would learn how to shoot and offer my rifle to Crazy Horse or learn how to ride and ask Chief Joseph if he could use my help. As I listened to the rhythmic thump of soldiers’ boots marching on where they thought my friends’ village was, I would imagine approaching a fat officer in a powdered horse-hair whig with a smile coming from my white face. I would tell the officer I knew where the Indians were, only to lead him on a wild goose chase while he trusted me because I was white.

I have grown up now. I realize that there are wars being waged against the land and those who would protect the land. I realize that I can work to stop the black snakes that are being built to slither through this land, to choke her original people, and to wring the last few drops of oil from her.

All of us who have benefited from the rape of the earth and the destruction of so many of her people are being called. We are being called to kill the black snakes by those already engaged in mortal combat. We must do whatever it takes to stand with indigenous peoples and stop the pipelines.

DIY Resistance: I love you, Dad

IMG_0744By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

“Your mother and I are worried about you,” my dad said looking down into the beer his hands cradled on a wood table in the Morris Inn at the University of Notre Dame.

We came to Notre Dame to honor two now decades-old father and son traditions. The first, seeing Fighting Irish football games together, serves to support the second, honest face-to-face communication in a comfortable environment.

I traveled all the way in from Victoria, BC. My dad came in from San Francisco. For a family that has moved as much as ours, Notre Dame comes as close to representing home as anywhere.

“We’re just worried about you,” my dad said again. “We’re worried you’re not going to be able to support yourself.”

I understood his concerns. In fact, no one worries more about me than, well, me. I’m a volunteer activist in a foreign country living completely on the goodwill of others. I rely on others for sleeping space, for food, and even for the beater bike stuck in the same gear that I grind up hills in Victoria. Someone at US Bank must like me because it’s a minor miracle they haven’t shut my account down by now for being perpetually overdrawn.

Every time I come home, my mother presents me with a stack of unopened bills that have arrived for me at their address. The student loan companies never stop. The Milwaukee ambulance company wants the $1,000 they decided it cost to transport me the two miles from my bedroom to the emergency room one of the nights I tried to kill myself. Of course, I was unconscious and couldn’t possibly consent to the ride.

I often ask my parents for money and they’ve been wonderful about helping. I am sure it is beyond annoying to see my name appear on their phone and automatically wonder if I’m calling to ask for money. On top of this, my dad’s older brother – unemployed, uninsured, and living with my grandparents – just suffered a severe stroke that is going to leave him paralyzed.

I write this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series to encourage individuals – especially young settler individuals from middle class backgrounds – to take the personal steps necessary to free themselves for serious resistance.

I write this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series to encourage individuals – especially young settler individuals from middle class backgrounds – to take the personal steps necessary to free themselves for serious resistance. One of the biggest impediments to engaging in full-time resistance that I hear from young settlers is a worry for the anxiety it will cause their families.

It is true that engaging in serious actions against the dominant culture could cause your family to worry, could cause your parents to be angry with you, could even cause your family to desert you, but, in a time when your family’s well-being is at stake, is it more important that your family is happy with you or that the possibility of a healthy future for your family is protected?

***

My father is a Type-2 diabetic. I cannot pretend to know what that feels like. I’ve seen him prick his finger with a mechanical needle to draw a drop of blood to measure his blood sugar thousands of times. I’ve seen him wince as he inserts a syringe into his belly to deliver the effective insulin his body cannot produce. I’ve heard him describe the dizziness that accompanies low blood sugar and the strange tingling sensations he sometimes feels in his feet. I’ve imagined the fear he must feel when we get the news that a diabetic family member has had some toes amputated.

If there was any possible way to take this disease away from my father, I would do it. Of course, there is nothing I can do to take diabetes away from him, so I work for the next best thing. I combat the economic and agricultural system that causes widespread diabetes.

Diabetes has been described as a disease of civilization. While many scientists claim the causes of diabetes are unclear, they explain genetics, physical activity, and diet are factors in the development of diabetes. Additionally, type-2 diabetes has been found to be extremely rare in pre-Western dominated indigenous cultures around the world. The active life-styles of non-civilized peoples with diets high in proteins and low in carbohydrates meant diseases such as diabetes were virtually unknown.

It would be one thing if civilization and the destructive agriculture that accompanies it were simply an inevitable development in human evolution. If diabetes was simply an unfortunate coincident with the so-called comforts of civilization, then perhaps I could live in peace with my father’s disease. My dad would simply be unlucky enough to bear one of the bad side effects of the culture of progress. But, this is not what is happening.

The same omnicidal processes that massacre indigenous peoples on their lands, that require mass deforestation of old growth forests to fuel this ever-starving machine, that produces the pollutants that are poisoning so many around the world are responsible for both the diet and the difficulty to maintain regular physical activity characterizing life in this culture of death.

Civilization is at the root of the problem. Derrick Jensen’s definition of civilization in two-volume work, Endgame, most accurately describes the predicament we find ourselves in. He defines civilization as a “complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities.” He goes on to explain what’s wrong with cities defining them 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.”

People living in cities exhaust the resources where they live and then are forced to constantly acquire the necessities of life from somewhere else.

People living in cities exhaust the resources where they live and then are forced to constantly acquire the necessities of life from somewhere else. But, what happens when your neighbors – both human and non-human – are unwilling to give you what you require? What happens, for example, if your way of life depends on fossil fuels that you cannot access from the land you occupy? The answer to these questions form the history of colonization.

Agriculture is nothing more than the colonization (and annihilation) of non-human communities. Author and activist Lierre Keith often encourages her audiences to think about what agriculture does to the land with a simple, common sense progression. I’m paraphrasing her ideas, but she asks audiences to picture a healthy natural community.

Take the prairie lands of the American Midwest, for example, where thousands of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria once thrived. It’s not too hard to remember the tens of millions of bison that once thundered through the prairies. It’s not too hard to hear the cheerful conversations of hundreds of millions of prairie dogs. It’s not too hard to feel the song the wind played on never-ending seas of grass. And, what has agriculture done to these prairies? It has cleared the soil of every living thing – all the way down to the bacterial systems – to grow one crop (often corn or soy or wheat) on land that used to teem with life.

Is it so hard to believe, then, that many of the products spawned in this destruction like high fructose corn syrup are linked to the causes of something so damaging to humans as diabetes?

***

It was not until I visited Unist’ot’en territory in central so-called British Columbia that I truly understood the connection between civilization and unhealthy diets.

It was not until I visited Unist’ot’en territory in central so-called British Columbia that I truly understood the connection between civilization and unhealthy diets. One of the first things that struck me about the forests in the region was the number of dead and rotting trees. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say one in three trees standing in Unist’ot’en forests are dead – killed by beetle infestations.

Climate change is producing winters that end earlier allowing the pine beetles to spawn earlier and at greater numbers. These beetles are literally destroying the forests. This destruction is keeping moose from ranging into Unist’ot’en territory depriving the Unist’ot’en of a staple winter protein. Traditionally, the Unist’ot’en were able to live in balance with their land eating food that they could find on their territories. But, now they’re forced to get their food from somewhere else.

This is, of course, why there are supermarkets everywhere. Civilization has progressed (in the way cancer progresses) to the point where most of us simply cannot survive on food we produce on our own land base – if we even have access to soil to produce our own food. The destruction of the land’s ability to support us and the conversion of the land from self-sustaining natural communities into monocrop dead zones results in high fructose corn syrup being cheaper and easier to acquire than moose.

Just like we know that civilization requires the combustion of fossil fuels creating climate change, we know that civilization requires destructive agriculture creating dangerous diets. Unist’ot’en forests are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of beetle infestations caused by climate change and Unist’ot’en homes are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of proposed pipelines that would gash through their territories if not for their incredible bravery.

The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en threaten my family, too. The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en are undermining the world’s ability to sustain life. I cannot take my father’s disease away, but I can join people like the Unist’ot’en on the front lines as they combat the destruction.

***

Environmentally induced cancers are murdering our loved ones at staggering rates, suicide is taking too many of us, and widespread social collapse is not so much a question of if, but when.

I began this series weeks ago imploring my readers to fall in love. I think most of us are already in love with someone, though. We love a partner, a child, our parents, our siblings, a dear friend. We love them so much we worry how our activist lifestyle might negatively affect them. The truth is our loved ones are literally under attack. Environmentally induced cancers are murdering our loved ones at staggering rates, suicide is taking too many of us, and widespread social collapse is not so much a question of if, but when.

I listen respectfully when my parents express their worries to me. I’ve put them through a lot over the years. They gave me life and have loved me unconditionally. But, at this time of crisis, I cannot help but think of the lessons my dad has taught me. My father is a man that gets uncomfortable when I say, “I love you, Dad.” He rarely says it back and that’s ok because his actions have shown me he loves me.

I hope that families supporting those who want to devote their lives to activism can see the love in our actions. I love my parents, I love my sister, I love my friends, and I love this magical world filled with so much beauty. I refuse to see my family destroyed. I refuse to see this living world drained into a lifeless desert. That’s why I can tell my dad I love him, or I can follow his example and let my actions speak for me.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

DIY Resistance: Post-Modern Robin Hoods

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

255px-Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912For the last year, it goes like this: My phone rings precisely at 6:30 AM. I groan in bed and reach towards the shelf holding my phone. By the time I locate my phone, I’ve missed the call. It’s from an area code I don’t recognize. They’ve left a message, so I curse, roll over, cuddle a pillow to my chest, and fall back asleep. When I wake up there are three more calls from three different area codes with three more messages. I listen to the messages.

They are all the same. The prerecording plays, “Hello, this is Heather from Sallie Mae Department of Education Loan Services with a message for” and there’s a short pause, a hiss, and a mechanized voice saying “William Fawk.”

I chuckle to myself. The machines never know how to pronounce my last name. Falk, like talk with an F. And poor Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services will never track me down, though she has been getting rather sly lately. She calls from an area code where I have friends or family like 414 (Milwaukee) or 317 (Indianapolis) forcing me to check my messages just to make sure I do not miss a call from someone who matters.

***

My student loan debt hasn’t always been so much fun. I remember a couple years ago, the first time I logged into my Sallie Mae account from my desk in the Kenosha, WI State Public Defender Office. It was my first week on the job and I was swept up in a newfound sense of adult responsibility. I was determined to design a personal budget where I would make my monthly loan payments, set aside a little money for my retirement plan like my dad told me to, and have a bit left over to spend in relaxation to offset the stress as a trial attorney trying to keep people out of prison.

I listed out my numbers before I accounted for my loan payments. My gross monthly income was $2600. Rent for my one bedroom apartment in Bayview – an old working class Milwaukee neighborhood famous for labor rights and a labor massacre – was $700 a month. Blessed with my mother’s furnace of a metabolism, I allowed myself $150 for groceries a month. I would need a tank of gas a week to get to work and back and forth from the county jail to see clients. For the gas, I set aside $200 a month. This left me armed with $1550 to attack my student loan payments and have some spending money for the weekends.

Maybe you can imagine the brick Sallie Mae threw at my forehead through the computer screen when I read my monthly student loan payment coming in at over $1900 a month?

I iced the emotional bruise I took from Sallie Mae’s brick and resolved to figure my loans out. $1900 a month was just the standard ten-year plan. I started reading about my options. I learned that I could put my loans on a twenty or thirty year plan, reducing my monthly payments, but also paying more in interest in the long run. At 25 years old, ten years seemed (and still seems) like an eternity. Committing to something for twenty or thirty years was simply something I could not fathom because I lacked any experiential reference.

I reached out to the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Services. They explained to me that, as a public sector worker, the federal government offered a forgiveness program where if I made my minimum payments for ten years and remained in public sector work, the government would forgive the rest of my loans. I realized this was my best option, worked out a deal with Sallie Mae to pay $400 a month, enrolled in the forgiveness plan, and started breathing easier.

Then, the reality of life as a public defender set in. I began working 60 and 70-hour weeks. I sat with clients in jail explaining to them how much prison time they were likely to get. I struggled to meet their gaze when they asked if me if there wasn’t anything else I could do. My fists clenched under courtroom tables as judges yelled at my clients for stealing from Wal-Mart, for lying to racist cops, for driving to work without a driver’s license, and then condemning my clients to cages.

Depression set in. Many days I walked out of the county jail, sat in my car, and wept. Some nights I got home at 7:30 pm and went straight to bed without dinner. Other nights I hardly slept at all haunted by my failures from the day before. I knew I could not keep this up. I was not cut out for a life as a public defender. But, what could I do? I was enrolled in the best possible student loan repayment plan the government offered. If I left my job, I would lose the plan and be forced to face twenty or thirty years paying off over $200,000.

I began to feel horribly guilty for considering walking away from the work.

Public defenders are doing incredible work. The American so-called criminal justice system is the nation’s most racist institution. Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. How could I turn my back on my clients? How could I live a life after gaining full awareness of this problem, after being in a position to help, and after leaving all those people to their fate in prison?

I was exhausted by the work. I was exhausted by the guilt. I felt trapped. And, as I’ve written so much about, I tried to kill myself twice. Luckily, I do not know how much Ambien or Klonopin it actually takes to kill a 6’2 190 pound male. I survived. But, in the time since my suicide attempts, my guilt surrounding personal finances has not.

***

I am engaged in full-time activism. I live out of an 80-liter pack where I carry a cold-weather down sleeping bag my mother bought me, a tent, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, a set of long underwear, five pairs of boxer briefs, four pairs of hiking socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, several collections of poetry, and a red Wisconsin Badgers hoodie. I do not know where I will sleep in October. I have $79.60 (Canadian) to my name.

I could not be happier.

Everywhere I’ve been from Milwaukee, WI to San Diego, CA to Unist’ot’en territory to Victoria, BC, I see would-be resistors caught in the fear surrounding personal finances. It’s a basic truism. Our movements would be much stronger if people knew they could fully devote themselves to a cause and support themselves at the same time.

So far in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series, I’ve focused on some of the emotional and intellectual hurdles resistors must deal with to engage in effective resistance, and now I want to address practical concerns. Money is an essential practical concern. On the one hand, serious resistors need money. Money grants you access to supply, gear, and materials. Money allows you to travel to where you will be most effective. Money buys the food you must eat to survive. On the other hand, the anxiety and shame that capitalism produces can neutralize would-be resistors because, after all, they “have to pay the rent.”

Before I go on, I want to be clear: I completely understand money worries. It is completely natural. It is completely rational. But, if we are going to mount a serious resistance movement, we must overcome the fear and guilt associated with a lack of financial security. I completely understand what that fear and guilt feels like. I have been there in the worst way. I write this in the hopes that people in a variety of financial situations will find ways to work through financial pressures to become effective resistors.

***

Because of the enormity of the problem facing us, resistance can take many forms. Resistance does not require living out of a pack, on a couple hundred dollars a month. It is simply the path that has opened up to me. We need it all. We need people with mainstream jobs making mainstream incomes who might not be able to occupy the frontlines to provide material support just as much as we need people willing to pick up and go wherever they’re needed.

The first step to overcoming money worries is realizing that this arrangement of power is not your fault.

You did not form this culture that long ago forgot who kept it alive. You did not ask to be born next to rivers that no longer flow to the sea, that have too many dams to support native fish populations, that hold too many poisons to drink from. You did not send blankets carrying small pox to intentionally wipe out the peoples who held the traditional knowledges necessary for living in the most humane ways on this land. You did not order the bison to be hunted damn near to extinction in an insane process that destroyed a relationship that provided humans with the protein needed to live in healthy balance with the natural world for millennia.

This nightmare of competition, selfishness, and shame that accompanies capitalism is not natural. You are alive. To live you need food, you need clean water, and you need shelter from the elements. Before civilization, humans gained what they needed directly from the land. Our present economic system forces us to pay for food, forces us to pay for clothing, and forces us to pay for shelter. In short, it forces us to pay for life. I use the verb “force” on purpose because this system is only maintained through violence.

The process began long ago with the dawn of agricultural civilization. Some cultures stripped their land bases clean of food, water, and soil, and then invaded the lands of more sustainable cultures. Soon, the Fertile Crescent was a desert. Then, Europe fell to the yoke of agriculture. Population boomed. European empires were forced to find their resources in other lands and European laborers unable to support themselves were pushed to the colonies. Indigenous peoples were murdered, driven off their lands, or pushed into tiny corners of the poorest sections of their traditional territories.

This process is ongoing wherever the dominant culture finds resources it decides it needs. In thoroughly colonized regions, the violence is harder to see. But, as the events in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of domestic police forces demonstrates, the system is willing to do great violence here, too. Another way to see the violence is simply to ask yourself what would happen if you ran out of money, were hungry, realized the supermarket has loads of food, decided to take some, and were caught?

Of course, perpetually overt violence may not be necessary once a culture’s ability to produce its own food is destroyed. This is why capitalism always works to make people dependent on the capitalist system for their needs. Once a society’s food security is destroyed it becomes both impractical and inefficient to constantly use open violence. Instead of employing brute force, it makes more sense to convince would-be resistors to police themselves. Capitalist logic encourages the notion that poverty is a sin, that happiness is most likely to be attained through financial success, and even to build shame around the smallest things like asking family for money.

It becomes easier to create and propagate narratives that extol the virtues of America’s opportunistic, rugged individuals than it is to massacre villages. So, once traditional cultures are undermined, the dominant culture focuses on creating institutions and stories to convince the civilized that they live in the best possible world. And the phrase “Kill your television” gains its relevancy.

***

Some are already making great financial sacrifices. I know a woman who saved up her vacation days for a year, cashed them in, and donated the proceeds to the Unist’ot’en Camp. I know others who have pledged to give a day’s wages every month to their favorite cause. I know others, still, who contribute by maintaining an open, welcoming home for full-time activists to stay in. The point is not so much how many dollars you can give. Rather, the point is to give up some of the anxiety and guilt surrounding finances. The point is to retake your dignity from a system determined to scare you into submission.

It took me a long time to relinquish the anxieties I felt around student loans and I still struggle with asking for help. Sometimes, it takes me too many skipped meals and too many skipped dosages of my anti-depressant to gather the courage to ask for help. I am lucky to have so much support from friends and family. I could not do what I do without them. But, the fact is we all need help, and we all are going to need a lot more help as the fires burning the world get hotter and hotter.

Part of my recovery from suicidal depression involves me recognizing poisoned thought patterns. Guilt over debt is poison. I have decided I will not pay my student loans back. I refuse to pay an illegitimate, occupying, imperial government engaged in genocide around the world for an education that should rightfully be free anyway. Now, when Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services leaves me a message, I am empowered to laugh.

Lately, for smiles, I’ve called myself a post-modern Robin Hood. Not paying my student loans is like stealing my education from the government. Just like Robin Hood of old, I stole my education, my intellectual experiences, and my degrees from the rich, and am using that education, those experiences, and the letters behind my name to fight for the poor. Come join me in a refusal to let money stop us from action. We can form a merry band and save the world while we’re at it.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

The Decision to Die, The Decision to Kill

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition 

It is long past time we honestly assessed our capacity for violence. Violence – unconscionable violence many seem unconscious of – rages on around us. I write “unconscionable” because what other word describes the images of Palestinian children on hospital beds with half their heads caved in? I write “unconscious” because how many of us actively sit in the despair these images produce?

Within violence there are two extremes: the decision to die and the decision to kill. The decision to die and the decision to kill can be as easy as deciding what to have for dinner. For the wolf, the decision to kill and the decision what to have for dinner are literally the same. For the moose hunted by the wolf, the decision to die becomes the decision to be dinner. For the moose, the decision to die means sacrificing her body to the sacred cycle so that life may continue.

It is becoming increasingly clear the dominant culture must be stopped. The more effective we become resisting, the more violence will be visited upon us. Will we be strong enough to decide to die for a better world? Will we be strong enough to decide to kill for a better world? If this sounds too extreme, then I ask you: what decisions were faced by Tecumseh, Nat Turner, Crazy Horse, Denmark Vesey, and Padráic Pearse when they picked up rifles and hatchets to meet bullets and swords?

***

I experienced the decision to die and the decision to kill simultaneously the two times I tried to commit suicide. I am compelled to write about my suicide attempts because in what was designed to produce my own death, I produced new life. And, in the process of healing, I see that I am privy to experiential wisdom that most never will be. I’m not saying that anyone should visit the dark places I have, but now that I have returned from those dark places I feel a responsibility to describe what I’ve seen.

The decision to die came slowly. It began during my senior year in college. The reality that I borrowed $90,000 to pay for my education started to sink in. I saw my future draining away while I was inevitably chained to jobs to make enough money to pay off my loans. I wanted to be a literature professor spending my life reading, researching, and writing about the stories that shape the world, but somehow I let myself be convinced that the best way to pay off my loans was to take out another $120,000 to go to law school.

From the moment I settled on going to law school, my decision to die solidified as I stuffed the messages of protest my heart sent me deeper and deeper into a hole dug by my own denial. I hated law school. I sensed the deep contradiction inhering to the practice of law. Lawyers are supposed to practice justice, but I read case after case of the United States endorsing genocide through Federal Indian law policy, genocide through upholding slavery, patriarchy through a concentrated attack on the bodies of women, and the constant destruction of natural communities in the name of “progress,” “the economy,” and “development of natural resources.”

Then, I became a public defender. The hole of denial I dug to bury my heart in simply was not big enough. My emotions – left to fester in their hole – seeped out to infect my body with a profound weariness. Each time I accepted my own powerlessness in the face of the system, each time I walked into a jail to sit with someone who should not have been held there, and each time I watched the face of a client being dragged to prison, my heart pumped out its poison. The poison spread into my limbs making my every move a struggle upstream against a strong current. The poison spread into my mind until it became impossible to see a future inhabited by anything other than the clinging, gray fog of numbness.

Finally, I made the decision to die.

The only person I’ve ever tried to kill is myself. It wasn’t hard. I even looked myself in the eye – my reflection in the mirror – as I ground a couple sleeping pills with the butt of a knife into a fine powder. I watched my hands as they stopped shaking for the first time in days to shape the powder into tidy, straight lines. I noticed the way the cowlick over my forehead conveniently fell out of the way as I bent to snort the lines. I even enjoyed the taste of the tap water as I drank down the twenty-odd pills and put on my pajamas before crawling into bed losing consciousness.

In my desperation, the decision to kill was that easy.

I survived the suicide attempts in a physical sense and I am very grateful. Parts of me, however, did not survive. I killed the last vestiges of my desires for financial and social comforts. I killed my self-doubt that I was capable of embracing an actively resistant lifestyle. I killed my denial that my heart truly knows what’s best for me.

In so many ways, I was left for dead – and it was the best thing to ever happen to me because I know how untouchable a dead person can be. Giving up on everything but the defense of those I love makes me more effective than I could ever have imagined.

***

I was recently part of a discussion about the practice of tree spiking. Tree spiking is a tactic used by land defenders to protect forests from logging. The tactic involves hiding a long nail – called a spike – in the trunks of trees. Typically, logging companies are alerted to the possibility of spikes in a proposed cut, so loggers are aware of the risks they’re taking. If the blade of a saw strikes the nail it can break the saw or cause the saw to careen off possibly injuring or even killing the logger or mill worker. Bad profit margins in spiked forests and pressure from logging unions to protect loggers make corporations reluctant to log in areas where tree spiking has occurred. In short, tree spiking can be an effective way to combat deforestation.

Many people are outraged that land defenders would consider a tactic that might lead to the injury of fellow humans. They remind advocates of tree spiking that many loggers have no choice in their profession. Tree spiking detractors ask advocates if they aren’t just occupying a place of privilege when they place a logger’s body in jeopardy through spiking. Detractors accuse advocates of being just like our corporate enemies if we even consider placing a human in physical harm’s way. And, as if this should end all debate of the efficacy of tree spiking, they ask, “Isn’t tree spiking violent?”

Imagine a logging operation. The spray of living flesh coats the loggers’ arms and chests and sticks to their beards in the form of saw dust. Behind the loggers is a stack of dozens of dead tree corpses. These trees were stretching their green nettled arms towards the sky in celebration of the sun’s warmth just moments before. Underneath the tree, in the soil and crawling up the trees’ skin, a whole network of mycelium was busily shuffling nutrients from strong, healthy trees to young or sickly trees in the community. In the tops of the trees, families of swallows have built their mud nests against the trunks. Many of these nests, full of chicks with wings not quite ready, are crushed as the trees collapse to the ground.

Then, a logger hits a spike. His saw careens off the nail. Maybe the saw strikes him and he is cut and bleeding. Maybe the cut is so bad he must be rushed to the hospital. Maybe the cut is so bad he dies. In any case, the logging stops – if even just for the time it takes to remove the injured logger.

When I imagine this logging operation and listen to people urging advocates of direct action tactics like tree spiking to think of the loggers that may be hurt or to disregard any option that involves violence, I cannot help but ask: What about the trees? What about the mycelia networks living in mutual relationship with tree roots? What about the chicks living in the treetops?

***

I am growing impatient. We are losing and losing badly.

Just this morning, I looked at a list of extinct species. West African black rhinoceroses will never again cause the earth to shake under their heavy tread. Pyrenean ibexes will never again dance their sure-footed way through the mountains of France and Spain. Sea minks will never again glide through the green foams along the coasts of Maine and New Brunswick.

What would these animals ask us if they were still around to communicate? Would they ask us to hesitate in the face of their total extermination, or would they ask us to help them survive?

It’s not just extinction either. The best-case estimate for old growth forest in the United States is that we’ve lost 95% since the arrival of Europeans on this continent. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization says that 22-44 million trees are cut down per day around the world, or 916,000 trees cut down per hour, or 15,000 trees cut down per minute, or 250 trees cut down per second.

How many CEOs, politicians, or loggers have been cut down by land defenders? Any? A few? A fraction of the 250 living trees felled around the world in one second?

I need to be explicitly clear. I am not calling for wanton violence. I am simply asking those of us who love life on the planet enough to be engaged in active resistance not to remove tools from the table.

We must think about the negative impact of any action taken, but we must also remember that every second that passes means more trees felled, more forests eradicated, more topsoil spent, more water rendered incapable of sustaining life, more air poisoned, more species extinct, and more peoples killed and displaced. We must understand that the destruction that builds with every passing second brings us closer and closer to our own extinction.

***

Our own violence was long ago determined for us. The decision to die and the decision to kill are made through our complicity in this genocidal and ecocidal system daily. To think that we can somehow keep our hands clean ignores that they have been soaking in blood for centuries. There’s not one square inch of soil on this continent that has not been affected by the perpetual shedding of indigenous blood by the dominant culture. The comforts of civilization come to us greased in the human tallow of oppressed workers around the world, come to us over mangled corpses in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, come to us through the psychic theft perpetrated by a world view trying to tell us that all of this is how it should be.

We are animals. Just like the relationship between the wolf and the moose, we must kill to survive and we must die so that others may live. We can choose to kill as the wolf does – carefully selecting a sick or weak moose to sustain the pack – or we can kill indiscriminately dropping napalm, bouncing betties, and carpet bombs. We can recognize that we are already killers, or we can hide in our comforts and deny the violent reality surrounding us.

There are those who for a number of valid reasons are not willing to engage in direct actions like sabotage or tree spiking because they might be deemed violent. I would encourage those who reject violence in all forms to consider whether they are willing to accept life-threatening violence on their own bodies. If you cannot do violence, are you willing to take violence? Can you place your body between the bombs and the bombs’ targets?

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza

We have seen what will happen to even non-violent resistors who effectively impede business as usual. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. Rachel Corrie was smashed to death under an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 when she acted to stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in Gaza. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a poet no less, was hung by the Nigerian government. These non-violent resistors all demand that we ask: Can you make the decision to die?

There are others who believe that we need to stop the dominant culture from destroying everything and are willing to consider a variety of tactics. I cannot take the place of your heart in your own journey towards understanding your limits. I can, however, tell you that as someone who has made the decision to die and the decision to kill before, I do not believe it makes you evil, wrong, or even any different from the rest of us.

We are all engaged in violence. Some are willing to take it, but will not engage in violence. Some are willing to give violence. It is time we decide our capacity for violence. Time is short. How we channel this violence will determine our very survival.

 

References:

http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Wildlife/2009/0102/earthtalk-how-threatened-are-us-old-growth-forests

ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/008/A0400E/A0400E00.pdf

Oppression is always tied to resource extraction

Excerpt from the presentation, Tactics and Talking Points: Re-Radicalizing the Fight for Abortion Access, given July 5, 2013 at the Radfem RiseUp conference in Toronto, ON:

Mainstream reproductive rights activists in the United States are currently accepting a fictional story about why abortion restrictions are being enacted. A recent article by Andrea Ayres-Deets on the popular liberal website Policy Mic contained a common assumption:

“To Republicans, abortion is about a deeply held moral belief concerning the sanctity of life which propels them to legislate against half of the U.S. Population.”

I think we’re giving politicians way too much credit when we take their word on this.

So when the men in power say something like “new greenhouse gas regulations will harm the nation’s economy and threaten millions of jobs over the next quarter century,” as it says in the Republican Party’s official platform, thinking people can look at that, recognize the hypocrisy, and see through it to what they’re actually saying: “New greenhouse gas regulations will harm the ruling class’s power to extract resources and threaten our profit and dominance.”

When George Bush says something like “confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror,” again, we can all see through it and call bullshit. He means that “confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to maintaining the ruling class’s power to extract resources and to ensuring our profit and dominance.”

I’m a firm believer that the men in power and institutions they control – the judiciary, legislature, military, industry – they rarely, if ever, take any action that doesn’t directly or indirectly facilitate resource extraction for the purpose of generating profit, and preserving their power.

So, when the men in power say something like…”I am strongly pro-life, and have fought to protect the rights of the unborn my entire career. I will continue to fight for this cause because I value the sanctity of all human life, which was said by Utah congress member Rob Bishop, why do so many advocates for reproductive rights take him at his word?  Why do we accept his supposed altruism as legitimate?  Why can’t we see through his rhetoric to what he’s really saying?

He means, “I am strongly pro-control and have fought to protect the rights of the ruling class to extract resources for my entire career. I will continue to fight for this cause because I value our profit and dominance.”

The pundits point out the hypocrisy all the time – if they’re so pro-life, why do they cut so many aid programs,sentence children and families to hunger and homelessness, bomb so many children, execute so many prisoners, outlaw birth control, if they’re focused on the sanctity of life?

“Still, GOP bigwigs get furious when they are accused of conducting a war on women. But what else is it? It’s clearly not a great moral crusade to save children,” writes Cynthia Tucker, in The GOP’s War on Women Continues.  Pundits and activists ask the question, the question of why, as though it were rhetorical.  Why can’t we follow our logic to it’s conclusion?  The answer is staring us in the face.

Liberal pundits and activists have taken to calling the escalating surge of reproductive restrictions a “war on women,” yet they seem to forget what war is actually for.  War is hateful, but it’s not just about hate.  It’s violent, but it’s not just about violence.  Its goal is control, but not control for the sake of control.  The hate and violence of war are used to achieve control over resources.  This is as true for the war on women as it is for the war on Iraq, the war on indigenous cultures, the war on the fabric of life that makes up the living planet.  The ideologies of colonial cultures – race, class, gender – all serve the purpose of normalizing and rendering invisible the mechanics of resource extraction.

Oppression is always tied to resource extraction.  Abortion restrictions in the US, from the very beginning, were intended to ensure the dominance of white settlers and the dominance of the medical industry.  Since the very beginning of patriarchy, the reproductive capacity of women has been regarded by the men in power as a resource, and controlling women is not just a hobby, or a religious directive – it’s a way to control and facilitate the extraction of resources from female bodies.

Politicians are restricting abortion access in order to more effectively extract human resources from female bodies, with the added benefit of forced pregnancy further entrenching women’s second class status.  We’re not doing ourselves any favors by taking politicians at their word with regard to their motivations.  In fact, by doing so, we’re throwing the fight, playing by their rules, and dooming ourselves to failure by accepting their terms.

Originally published on Bend Until It Breaks.