Deep Thoughts: The World at Gunpoint

I read this article a couple of weeks ago.  Someone had slipped it beneath the office door and upon returning from lunch, I sat down and took the time to read it.

The World at Gunpoint – Derrick Jensen, Orion Magazine

Finally we get to the point. Those who come after, who inherit whatever’s left of the world once this culture has been stopped—whether through peak oil, economic collapse, ecological collapse, or the efforts of brave women and men fighting in alliance with the natural world—are not going to care how you or I lived our lives. They’re not going to care how hard we tried. They’re not going to care whether we were nice people. They’re not going to care whether we were nonviolent or violent. They’re not going to care whether we grieved the murder of the planet. […]

They’re going to care whether they can breathe the air and drink the water. They’re going to care whether the land is healthy enough to support them.

It seems to me, they’re also going to care whether the vast and vibrant diversity of life and landscape that we take for granted right now, will be given the opportunity to inspire them as it has so many of us.

The boss-man likes to play jokes on me at work.  One of his favorites is to give me a phone number that we receive on the office answering machine  and tell me to call it.  One day, I wandered into the office after a nice bike-ride through Croy Canyon and up Democrat Gulch where the beaver dams, vibrantly colored birds, wildflowers, and native vegetation  have reclaimed the channel after over a decade of livestock being removed from the public landscape upstream.  It was a nice ride.  Jon gave me a phone number to call and told me to explain to the nice lady our position on wilderness.

I dialed the number, pressed the receiver to my ear, and explained to the lady on the other end that I was returning her call.  For 5 full minutes I listened to a very hostile voice rant and rave about a very reductionist interpretation of the United States Constitution, her resentment that I would come from New York City (I’m actually an Idaho native) and tell her how to live her life, that wildlife and landscape are to be used – not wasted, and that I am a very hated man.

I hung up the phone and turned to see my boss and our Administrative Director sheepishly look at me through the corner of their eyes, the corner of their mouths slowly curl up, until finally they cracked up and asked me what she said as the message she left wasn’t too pretty.

We live in the West – we live among folk that are hostile to the thing that inspire us – that are hostile to us personally, and who believe us personally hostile toward them.  In order to know the landscape, we drive back roads completely isolated from cell-phone coverage.   People carry guns to public meetings, police escorts stand guard, and the parking lot is as shadowy a place as any dark tent I’ve set in bear country.  We get phone calls.  There’s a real balance – I’ve spent many hours pleading with my sister to ‘sit this one out’, we don’t need that footage, we’ll find another way to get at that.  “But it’s a public meeting” she says, it’ll be alright.  She’s more hesitant now than her first time, she’s a bit more experienced now.

Most don’t speak of these things ~ it’s an unspoken shadow.

On the other side are the internal disputes, the people that believe in a softer approach, that what we need is to sit down and talk it out.  Usually these folk that come to us with better ideas change their mind with enough experience on the landscape, and especially when invited to subsequent meetings where we do sit down to talk with bureaucrats about management of those particular places.  I can’t tell you how many minds have been changed this way – the most fervent public-land pacifists.

Derrick Jensen :

What if, instead of asking “How shall I live my life?” people were to ask the land where they live, the land that supports them, “What can and must I do to become your ally, to help protect you from this culture? What can we do together to stop this culture from killing you?” If you ask that question, and you listen, the land will tell you what it needs. And then the only real question is: are you willing to do it?

Derrick’s got a way with words ~ I’ll be reading his column in Orion Magazine. I hope you do too.







  1. Virginia Avatar

    He echoes what the native Americans practiced long ago. I feel that this article gets right to the heart of what many of us feel who read and share on this blog. We care about the earth and the inhabitants that cannot speak for themselves – so we must do the best we can to advocate for them and try to “tread lightly” on the earth, respect all living things no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential. I too will look for Derrick’s writings.

  2. Indamani Avatar

    I wish more people will come to the realization that we need the land more than the land needs us. I have come across many people who tend to think like the hostile lady on the phone which Brian described. Edward Abbey wrote, ‘are human needs the only needs worthy of respect?’ Unfortunately, the majority of humans think so. How very sad.