from “Connection and Cooperation”
If we are to survive, we need to discern the difference between real and false hopes. We must eliminate false hopes, which blind us to real possibilities, and bind us to unlivable situations. Does anyone really believe that Weyerhaeuser or other timber transnationals will stop destroying forests? Does anyone really believe that the same corporate administrators who say they "wish salmon would go extinct so we could just get on with living" will act other than to fulfill their stated desires? Does anyone really believe that a pattern of exploitation old as our civilization can be halted legislatively, judicially, or through any means other than an absolute rejection of the mindset that engineers the exploitation in the first place, followed by actions based on that rejection? This means if we want to stop the destruction, we have to root out the mindset.
To expect police to do other than use pepper spray or worse on those who prefer life over production is to delude ourselves. To expect the institutions created by our culture to do any other than to poison waters, denude hillsides, eliminate alternative ways of living, commit genocide, and so on, is to engage in magical thinking. After bearing witness to the horrors of Hanford, Rocky Flats, the Salvage Rider, dams, governmental inaction in the face of Bhopal, the ozone hole, global warming, the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet, surely by now there are few who still believe the purpose of government is to protect citizens from the activities of those who would destroy. At last most of us must understand that the opposite is true: that Adam Smith was correct in noting that the primary purpose of government is to protect those who run the economy from the outrage of injured citizens.
Ours is a politics, economics, and religion of occupation, not of inhabitation, and as such the methods by which we are formed and governed ultimately have no legitimacy save that sprouting from the end of a gun, from a can of pepper spray, from the tip of a rapist’s penis, from the travesty of modern education, from the instilled dread of a distant hell and the false promise of a future technotopia, from the chains that bind children to beds and looms and from the everyday fear of starvation--as well as an internalized notion of what constitutes social success or failure--that binds so many to wage slavery. Any political, economic, theological, or philosophical system that in practice rewards production over life is illegitimate because, tautologically enough, it does not value the lives of its citizens over the needs of production. Such is sufficient to define illegitimacy. No other measure is needed. The same is true--for the same reasons, because the results play out the same--for any system that is unsustainable.
The responsibility for holding destructive institutions--more broadly systems, and more broadly yet cultures--accountable falls on each of us. We are the governors as well as the governed; it is only when we daily allow our servants--our so-called "elected representatives"--to act outside our behalf that they can actually do so. This means that all of us who care about life need to force accountability onto those who do not; we must learn to be accountable to ourselves, our consciences, our neighbors, and the nonhuman members of our community--to salmon, for example, and grizzly bears--rather than be loyal to political, economic, religious, penal, educational, and other institutions that do not serve us well. If salmon, to return to a creature who once spawned not two miles from where I live, are to be saved, we must give the corporations and bureaucracies that are driving them extinct, such as Kaiser Aluminum, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the United States government, a reason to save them. We must tell these institutions that if they cause salmon to go extinct, we will cause these institutions to go extinct. And we must mean it. We must then say the same to every other destructive institution, and we must act on our words; we must do whatever is necessary to protect our homes and our land bases from those who are destroying them. Only then will salmon be saved. Only when we as citizens and communities begin to act as though we value life over production will we begin to act as though we value life over production. It really is that simple . . ..
The Declaration of Independence states, "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it. . . ." It would be more precise to say that it is not the Right of the People, nor even their responsibility, but instead something more like breathing--something that if we fail to do we die. If we as a people fail to rid our community of destructive institutions, those institutions will destroy our community. And if we as a community cannot provide meaningful and nondestructive ways for people to gain food, clothing, and shelter then we must recognize it’s not just destructive institutions but our entire economics--our entire civilization--that’s pushing biological systems past breaking points. Once we’ve recognized the destructiveness of our civilization we’ve no choice, unless we wish to sign our own and our children’s death warrants, but to fight for all we’re worth and in every way we can to change it. There is nothing else to do.