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Defending the Earth and Burying the Hatchet

Murray Bookchin: I have been a social activist for over 55 years. I was on the ecological frontlines as far back as 1952; at that time I opposed the use of pesticides and additives in food. I campaigned against nuclear testing and fallout in 1954. Since then, I have been active in anti-nuke alliances and, more recently, I've helped start a continent-wide Left Green Network that works within the Green Committees of Correspondence. My goal has long been to help build a genuinely radical North American Green movement that will harmonize the relationships between society and the biosphere and between human beings.

I also have had a long and vital concern with ecological philosophy and social theory. I don't think it is possible to overestimate the value of thinking clearly and creatively about defending the earth. We need ideas, good ideas, to guide our activist work.

I urge people: when you feel that you want to be critical of my ideas — and 1 think that you should be — please read my writings, enough to make a responsible assessment and criticism. If people do, they will discover that besides having been a labor organizer in foundries and auto plants, besides having been a revolutionary leftist for over 55 years, I share a good deal of the ecological state of mind of my conservation friends in Earth First!. Does that surprise people? Frankly, I see eye to eye with the activists at Earth First! on a number of things. In many ways, I think they and David Foreman are doing a wonderful job. I feel a very keen sympathy for their many direct-action campaigns to protect wilderness. They are not terrorists, as the FBI would have you believe. They are doing important work, work I support.

People should also know something about me which may not be obvious from my writings. The fact is, I am a wilderness freak. I've been to almost every national forest and every national park from the Olympics to the Smokeys. I've picked up the Appalachian Trail as far north as Vermont, and as far south as the Carolinas. I've hiked it everywhere in between.

Some of the greatest moments in my life have occurred hiking deep into forest areas in winter, alone, where if 1 so much as sprained my ankle I would freeze to death. My greatest regret right now is that I can no longer hike in the wilderness due to a very severe case of osteo-arthritis. 1 have to be a more distant admirer now. I would physically stand shoulder to shoulder with everyone in Earth First! to defend the wilderness if I could. There is no opposition between David Foreman and me on this, none whatsoever!

Our society has got to learn to live in peace with this planet, with the rest of the biosphere. Earth First! and 1 are in complete agreement on this fundamental point. The entire world of life, including those few but wonderful wild places that remain, must be protected. Indeed, wilderness areas must be expanded.

I also agree that we need to promote a rational solution to the human population problem. The world's human population needs to be brought into a workable equilibrium with the ' 'carrying capacity'' of the planet. Sooner or later, the mindless proliferation of human beings will have to be dealt with. However, it is absolutely essential that we first clearly identify what we mean by "overpopulation" and terms like ' 'carrying capacity.''

This is where the thinking of some deep ecologists frightens me. We need an understanding of the problem that has nothing to do with gas chambers and racism. I know what it means to face the brunt of a population-control problem. All my relatives in Europe are dead. They were murdered in the Nazi holocaust. They were slaughtered in the name of a population problem. For Hitler, the world was overpopulated if one Jew was left alive or if one Slav was left alive.

I've never believed that people in Earth First! are fascists. I am afraid, however, of certain positions and statements, the tendency of which reminds me of things I heard fifty years ago when there was a worldwide fascist movement that used "naturalistic" Mal-thusian arguments to justify racist population-control policies. This abuse of the ' 'overpopulation'' issue is not just a distant historical worry, either. The abuse of the population issue is ongoing.

I ask everyone in the ecology movement to please be careful about the population problem. This is a hot issue; a very hot issue. Don't kid yourselves about the objectives of many of those who talk of population control. I went through the thirties. We paid the price of sixty million lives back then as the result of a racist, imperialist war and mass-extermination policy. This sort of thing is not radical ecology. We have to explore this matter carefully and respect the very reasonable fears of women and people of color who have been victimized by population-control programs in the past.

The ultimate moral appeal of Earth First! is that it urges us to safeguard the natural world from our ecologically destructive societies, that is, in some sense, from ourselves. But who is this "us" from whom the living world has to be protected?

All too often we are told by liberal environmentalists, and not a few deep ecologists, that it is "we" as a species or, at least,' 'we'' as an amalgam of "anthropocentric" individuals who are responsible for the breakdown of the web of life.

One of the problems with this asocial,' 'species-centered" way of thinking, of course, is that it blames the victim. Let's face it, when you say a black kid in Harlem is as much to blame for the ecological crisis as the president of Exxon, you are slandering one and letting the other off the hook. Such talk makes grassroots coalition-building next to impossible. Oppressed people know that humanity is hierarchically organized around complicated divisions that are ignored only at their peril. Black people know this well when they confront whites. The poor know this well when they confront the wealthy. The Third World knows it well when it confronts the First World. Women know it well when they confront patriarchal males. The radical ecology movement needs to know it too.

All this loose talk of' 'we'' masks the reality of social power and social institutions. It masks the fact that the social forces that are tearing down the planet are the same social forces which threaten to degrade women, people of color, workers, and ordinary citizens. It masks the fact that there is a historical tie-in between the way people deal with each other as social beings and the way they treat the rest of nature. It masks the fact that our ecological problems are fundamentally social problems requiring fundamental social change. That is what I mean by social ecology.

The ecology movement will get nowhere unless it understands that the human species is no less a product of natural evolution than blue-green algae, whales, and bears. To conceptually separate human beings and society from nature by viewing humanity as an inherently unnatural force in the world leads, philosophically, either to an anti-nature an-thropocentrism or a misanthropic aversion to the human species.

We are part of nature, a product of a long evolutionary journey. These remarkable evolutionary powers present us with an enormous moral responsibility. We can contribute to the diversity, fecundity, and richness of the natural world — what I call' 'first nature''

—more consciously, perhaps, than any other animal. Or, our societies — "second nature"

—can exploit the whole web of life and tear down the planet in a rapacious, cancerous manner.

The future that awaits the world of life depends ultimately upoii the kind of society or ' 'second nature'' we create. This probably affects, more than any other single factor, how we interact with and intervene in biological or "first nature." And make no mistake about it, the future of "first nature," the primary concern of conservationists, is dependent on the results of this interaction. The central problem we face today is that the social evolution of "second nature" has taken a wrong turn. Society is poisoned. It has been poisoned for thousands of years, since before the Bronze Age. It has been warped by rule by the elders' patriarchy, by warriors, by hierarchies of all sorts which have led to the current situation of a world threatened by competitive, nuclear-armed nation-states and a phenomenally destructive corporate capitalist system in the West and an equally ecologically destructive, though now crumbling, bureaucratic-state capitalist system in the East.

We need to create an ecologically oriented society out of the present anti-ecological one. If we can change the direction of our civilization's social evolution, human beings can assist in the creation of a truly' 'free nature,'' where all of our human traits — intellectual, communicative, and social — are placed at the service of natural evolution to consciously increase biotic diversity, diminish suffering, foster the further evolution of new and ecologically valuable life-forms, and reduce the impact of disastrous accidents or the harsh effects of mere change. Our species, gifted by the creativity of natural evolution, could play the role of nature rendered self-conscious.

I believe that there is much common ground between Dave Foreman and myself. Dave's on the front line on this question and deserves, together with the rest of Earth First!, our full support, especially now when they are under attack by the FBI.

We cannot let the FBI get away with painting the radical ecology movement as terrorist. I've been involved in radical direct-action politics all my life. I know what it is like to be attacked by the FBI. I know what a bunch of lunatics they are. People seriously working to defend the earth will soon find themselves going up against powerful utilities, large corporations, private detective agencies, local police departments, and the FBI,

I think that many of the politicar differences between Dave and myself are complementary. Dave and the Earth First !ers work on preserving the Mdlderness; others (like myself) are trying to create a new grassroots municipal politics, a new cooperative economics, a new pattern of science and technology. We need to learn that we are different aspects of a single movement.

Dave Foreman: I agree with everything Murray said, and feel like I should just sit down. Agreeing with Murray might seem a little strange for someone who started their political career as a college freshman in 1964 campaigning for Barry Goldwater. Yet, I do. I really do.

In the early seventies I was working as a mule packer and horseshoer up in northern New Mexico and getting more and more concerned about what was happening to the national forests up there. Finally, I decided to go back to Albuquerque and try to get a graduate degree in biology and get involved in the conservation movement. I ended up dropping out of grad school by the middle of the first semester and I have been a professional rabble-rouser conservationist ever since.

I first went to work for The Wilderness Society as their Southwest representative early in 1973 for $250 a month and I islowly worked my way up until I went to Washington, DC, in the late seventies to be chief lobbyist. After going through the Carter administration process, where we got lobbied more than we lobbied them, and where it seemed like the more influence and access we had, the more we compromised, a number of us began to ask what had happened to the environmental movement. Environmental groups were becoming indistinguishable  from the corporations they were supposedly fighting. I guess if you organize yourself like a corporation, you begin to think like a corporation.

Several of us who worked for The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth began talking about sparking a fundamentalist revival within the environmental movement. We wanted to get back to the basics of John Muir and Aldo Leopold. So on a camping trip in the desert in Mexico, we decided it was time to quit talking about how bad things had gotten and actually do something about it.

So we started Earth First!. Maybe we were all just going through an early midlife crisis. I don't know. We sure had fun lowering a banner dovra the front of Glen Canyon Dam, making it look like it had cracked. That was one of our first actions. We were kicking up our heels a bit and playing the coyote of the environmental movement. We tried to do things vdth a sense of humor. Lord knows most of the social-change movement in this country lacks a sense of humor.

The greatest strength and accomplishment of Earth First! has been our ability to redefine the parameters of the national environmental debate. Back at the beginning of the Reagan administration, the Sierra Club was being called radical extremists. Well, we in Earth First! put an end to all that.

Back in those days, there was a spectrum of debate with the rape-the-land artists over at one end and the "Big Ten" environmental organizations over at the other. Yet, in an attempt to be credible, proper, and respectable, the conservationists kept moving over towards the rape-the-land artists before we ever even opened our mouths. The eventual result, of course, was a narrowing of the spectrum of debate, a narrowing that favored the big industry developers. So, we in Earth First! tried to create some space on the far end of the spectrum for a radical environmentalist perspective. And as a result of our staking out the position of unapologetic, uncompromising wilderness lovers with a bent for monkeywrenching and direct action, I think, we have allowed the Sierra Club and other groups to actually take stronger positions than they would have before and yet appear to be more moderate than ever. What's different now is that they are compared to us.

I think that the role of an avant-garde group is to throw out ideas that are objected to as absurd or ridiculous at first but which end up trickling into the rtiainstream and becoming more accepted over time. We were the first people to talk about the preservation of all old-growth forests. Before us, no mainstream conservation groups were even talking about old growth. We were the first people to really bring direct action to rain-forest campaigns.

I have no absolute, total, and complete answer to the worldwide ecological crisis we are in. My path is not the right path. It's the path that works for me. I think there are dozens of other approaches and ideas that we will need in order to solve the crisis we're in right now. We need that kind of diversity within our movement. In Earth First!, we have tended to specialize in what we're good at: wilderness preservation and endangered species. That doesn't mean the other issues aren't important. Hell, I've been arrested six times standing in front of bulldozers, or logging trucks, or otherwise fighting giant corporations that are trying to destroy our national parks and our national forests. I think my book Ecodefense: A Field Guide to MonkeywrencMng (WE Ecologp. 107) is probably one of the most effective little anticapi-talist tracts ever written. I know we are talking radical, anticapitalist social change here.

One problem I've had in getting the fullness of my message put comes from my impatience at seeing eco-catastrophe going on all around me while so many of those on the Left who are always talking about social justice don't seem to even see the problem OE care about other species. Let's face it; right now we're in the greatest extinction crisis in the entire three-and-a-half-billion-year history of life on this planet.

I am deeply concerned about what is happening to people all over the world. Yet, unlike much of the Left, I'm also very concerned with what's happening to a million other species on the planet who haven't asked for this eco-catastrophe to happen to them. And I have a connection that is very fundamental and very passionate with those other species. I feel a real kinship with them, as well as members of my own species. And I think, as Murray pointed out, that it's very difficult to separate the two concerns. Or, at least, it should be. Regardless of what our emphasis is, regardless of whether it's goose music that plays a symphony to us, or the diversity of people in a vibrant place like New York City that plays a symphony to us, I think we have to recognize that we are on the same side.

Unfortunately for me, when you see this kind of eco-crisis all around you and you react to it, and you begin to suggest some of the things that may happen if we don't wise up and change our way of living on this planet, your ideas may come out as though you're welcoming some of those things. It may come out as though you're saying "ought" instead of "is." I think the problem of the Cassandra is to try to make it very clear that you're predicting certain things because you don't want them to happen, because you want people to wake up. It's not that you're chortling over any suffering. You are compassionate. You are concerned. You're on the side of aE the people who are the victims of multinational imperialism around the world. That probably hasn't come out as clearly as it should have in my discussions to date of ecological problems. But it is very real to me, and I'm very concerned about it.

We are all engaged in a battle for life against profit. We are engaged in a struggle for a life of egalitarianism instead of a life of greed and imperialism. We have the same enemies. We are fighting the same battle, regardless of what we emphasize. Gifford Pinchot, the founder of the United States Rjrest Service, said there are only two things on earth, people and natural resources. I think Donald Trump and George Bush would amend that by saying there's only one thing on earth, natural resources. Ordinary people become just another "natural resource" to the big imperial man. Murray is right. It's one fight.

I must say, however, that for all my intellectual understanding of imperialism, it was directly encountering the repressive power of the FBI and doing a little time in federal custody that really brought home to me the reality of people's suffering thoughout the world. I woke up on May 30,1989, and there were three guys with bulletproof vests and drawn .357 magnums standing around the bed. Of course, I started thinking about some of the FBI attacks on the Black Panthers, like the FBI/Chicago police murder of Fred Hampton, who was shot in his apartment while he lay asleep in bed. I fully expected bullets to start coming my way. But as I am a nice, middle-class honlg' male, they can't get away with that stuff quite as easily as they could with Fred, or with all the native people on the Pine Ridge Reservation back in the early seventies. So they just dragged me out of bed. They let me put on a pair of shorts, and they hauled me outside.

I did not know what I was being arrested for until six hours later. The FBI had spent three years and two million dollars trying to frame a bunch of people in Earth First!, and trying to create a conspiracy to damage government property. They infiltrated Earth First! groups with informers and agents provocateurs seeking to entrap people into illegal activities; they amassed 500 hours of tape recordings of our meetings, our personal conversations, and our phone calls; they broke into our houses and offices; and they tried to intimidate numerous ecology activists in several states by agent interrogations and grand jury investigations.

The three unarmed people who were arrested for standing at the base of a power-line tower in the desert were surrounded by some 50 armed FBI agents on foot, horseback, and in two helicopters. Mind you, the three environmentalists were driven to the site by an undercover FBI agent who had infiltrated Earth First!. The whole escapade was large^ ly his idea. He was the one talking about explosives.

Back in the seventies, the FBI issued a memo to all their field offices, telling them that when you are trying to break up a dissident group, don't worry if you have any evidence or facts. Just go in, make a big arrest, make wild charges, have a press conference, and that's what the media's going to pick up. That's the news story. The damage to the group is done. You can always drop the charges against them later. That's no problem; it almost invariably gets less attention in the press. The big lie that the FBI pushed at their press conference the day after the arrests was that we were a bunch of terrorists consipiring to cut the power lines into the Palo Verde and Diablo Canyon nuclear facilities in order to cause a nuclear meltdown and threaten public health and safety.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was formed just after the Palmer raids, was set up from the very beginning to inhibit internal political dissent, They rarely go after criminals. They're a thought police. And let's faceit, that's what the whole government is. Foreman's first law of government reads that the purpose of the State, and all its constituent elements, is the defense of an entrenched economic elite and philosophic orthodoxy.

In this case, I think the U.S. government has made a major tactical mistake, because even the usually compliant mass media isn't buying their story. I'm very hopeful we're going to overcome this. Though we will undoubtedly be hearing more from the FBI in the future.

I think there is no reason, divine or otherwise, why human beings, unless they wake up, will not make themselves extinct. There is a great deal of madness around us. Julian Simon, for example, is a Republican economist who said recently that there really are no limits to economic growth because, after all, we'll soon be able to change any element into any other element. Therefore, the supply of copper is restrained only by the entire weight of the universe. 1 can't even begin to talk to somebody like that. I mean, we aren't only speaking a different language, we're living on different planets in different

It's that kind of common madness that I think is profoundly irrational. 1 talk a lot about being non-rational, about using all sides of my brain, including the good old reptilian cortex back here. But I think there is nothing more rational, nothing more sensible than trying to keep in mind what Aldo Leopold called the first rule of intelligent tinkering: save all the pieces. We aren't saving all the pieces. Species and whole habitats are being destroyed at a rate unparalleled in the earth's history. It is as if we are going through a complicated Swiss watch with a bulldozer right now.

My own response to this situation is a sort of weird, spooky twist on Zen Buddhism. I don't believe in reforming the system any more. I believe in monkeywrenching it, thwarting it, and helping it to fall on its face by using its own stored energy against itself. And when people talk to me about the destruction of property, about the evils of destroying bulldozers, all I can say is that a bulldozer is made out of iron ore. It's part of the earth. A bulldozer is the earth, transmogrified into a monster destroying itself. By monkejrwrenching, you liberate a bulldozer's dharma nature and return it to the earth.

As I see it, Murray and I, atheists that we both probably are, are trying in various ways to help industrial civilization find its own dharma nature, and become an egalitarian, tribal society that respects people and respects the earth once again.