It’s a rainy afternoon and my mind keeps going back to a couple of books I browsed yesterday in Barnes and Noble. In the store’s History section, I came across works by a guy I’d never heard of named Derrick Jensen. A bit apocalyptic, but reflecting a lot of my own conclusions about the reality of our existence in this time and this place. I scanned his two heavyweight volumes, “Endgame” and “Resistance,” both dated 2006. I found little to argue with in Jensen’s premises or analysis. But his prescriptions, as with so much of his anarcho-environmentalism, seem to slide off into the New Age improbabilities and a romanticized idea of what a simpler life might actually be like. He seems enamored of the ways of Indigenous peoples, but from what I’ve read those cultures have more often than been awash in warfare and the enslavement of their perceived enemies. We are where we are, and there is no Garden to return to. I will probably succumb and buy his first volume, “Endgame,” just to see how close he comes to what I feel could be the unspoken truths of our times.
I am old enough to remember the disasters of the past century when seemingly clear-cut, utopian, ideals were embraced. Since the cathartic events of 1989, the best arguments being made to fill the void left by the collapse of a messianic Left and to counter a resurgent Right, are that only the slow, messy and difficult palliative routines of liberal democracy offer anything like a way of getting along. And yet … the allure of some all-embracing, non-transcendent course always arises like a lost dream. In a Gary Larson cartoon a sheep raises its head above the flock and shouts, “Wait! We don’t have to be sheep. We can be more than sheep!”
As an invited guest for an overnighter this past week in a wealthy summer resort town, I looked out upon the hundreds if not thousands of (vacant in September) million-dollar and multi-million dollar second homes. Reconciling that reality against all of the poverty in the world, I was forced to conclude once again that nothing, nothing will ever change. One the premises Derrick Jensen lists to support his overall thesis of the unsustainability of a civilization based on industrial capitalism is that “rich people’s property is more valuable than poor people’s lives.” Try disagreeing with that one.
Derrick Jensen could be just another nut in the much the same way that Jesus, William Blake, John Brown and Karl Marx were nuts. Having spent most of my seventy-plus years nurturing what I would like to believe is a disciplined, intellectual rigor, I always find myself, reluctantly forced on to the side of the rationalist, non-ideological conservative writers like Fritz Stern, Clive James and Tony Judt, who correctly, I am forced to admit, point to the massive bloodlettings of the twentieth-century as evidence of what happens when idealism is applied to the objective realities of the human condition. I wish I could believe otherwise, but I simply cannot.
I Know already that I will purchase and read Derrick Jensen’s “Endgame.” But what’s probably more important to my own life than any new radically sweeping philosophy; political, economic or social, however convincing, is that the the Phillies clinched a National League playoff spot yesterday afternoon.