Friday, 30 April 2010

How Shall I Live My Life – on liberating the earth from civilisation
By Derrick Jensen
PM Press 2010

How can we be real citizens in a globalised world? The more ‘global’ our world becomes, this book argues, the more dysfunctional our societies.

Jensen is dubbed the ‘philosopher poet of the ecological movement’ in the USA. Here he interviews ten leading thinkers on ecology and the dilemmas facing our world. Only one is British, the others are from the USA - I know none of them – but that could be due to my ignorance rather than their importance. They range from a Catholic priest to a Buddhist, a shamanic magician to a reformed oil big-wig. If that puts you off, don’t let it. They all have thought-provoking things to say and force us to re-assess and rethink our modes of living and what we take for granted. They all ask us to reconsider our human-centred view of life on the planet and instead to see ourselves as part of an interactive relationship with our surroundings and co-inhabitants. Some make seemingly outrageous statements like: we need to stop international trade or all road-building, but when they develop their arguments it becomes clear how such demands make sense. They all argue that the only solution is in a more social, equitable and even socialistic or communistic society without once mentioning those dreaded words (understandable in a US context). Carolyn Raffensperger explains vividly how capitalism increasingly externalises its true costs and leaves governments i.e. the public to pick up the tab. Lower costs of production, she demonstrates, only increase the public cost in terms of ill-health and environmental degradation.

The present financial crisis and those to come are all based on capitalist greed. We have already overshot the world’s carrying capacity in terms of long-term sustainability because of the way we have used cheap oil. In other words our world is slowly dying and is doomed unless we reverse this process quickly. The Indian philosopher Vine Deloria says: ‘If you see the world around you made up of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, it is inevitable that you destroy the world by attempting to control it.’

Sometimes the interviewees are a little precious, and all, I imagine, live quite privileged lives, but this shouldn’t be allowed to invalidate their basic arguments. A book well-worth reading.