(Flashpoint Press and PM Press, 2010)
Fellow anti-civilization (or pro-life, to put it another way) author Derrick Jensen once again proves his marvelous ability to pump out entertaining and important books with his juicy new offering, Lives Less Valuable. In typical fashion, Jensen succeeds in pushing the boundaries, and hopefully in forcing our discourse in an even more radical direction. Indeed, this may very well be his most militant book. And that is saying something remarkable—arguably the work he is best known for, the seminal two-volume Endgame, features his musings on toppling cell phone towers and an interview with a military man on crippling infrastructure. Yet LLV manages to take it even further.
This is his second published novel, following last year’s Songs of the Dead. While Songs is also a great read, LLV is far superior in my less-than-humble opinion. In it, mainstream (though philosophically radical) environmental activist Malia dedicates her life to “saving kids from cancer,” from stopping the hideously destructive practices of a giant local chemical-refining company, Vexcorp. She writes letter after letter, files and challenges Environmental Impact Statements, and aides her associate and former love interest Dennis with his impending appearance on 60 Minutes. Yet none of it seems to matter. Malia wallows, as any sane person caught in this industrial nightmare who hasn’t completely deluded themselves must, in the daily despair of ineffectiveness. The toxic river running through the heart of the city is becoming ever more polluted; cancer and respiratory illnesses continue to run rampant; and now Vexcorp is about to get the obligatory green light for expansion!
The plot heats up when Malia is mugged one evening after work by a young man named Dujuan and his friends. Dujuan is a tortured soul who lost his little sister to the ravages of cancer, a man who, like so many of us, focuses his anger entirely in the wrong direction. But something snaps inside him when Malia insists that he, a street thug, is no better than Vexcorp CEO Larry Gordon, a corporate thug (is there any other kind of CEO?)
Dujuan and his pals proceed to kidnap Gordon and take him to Malia’s office, where they will hold trial for his life. LLV ends with a riveting double-climax, both of which brilliantly affirm the absolute necessity of solidarity and security culture.
One of the most surprising and fascinating aspects of the novel is that it gives us an in-depth view into the life and mind of Vexcorp’s CEO. Larry Gordon is not merely the identity-less symbol of civilization’s murderous evils. He is a fully fleshed-out character, with dreams and hobbies and children. This is a brilliant storytelling technique by Jensen, because we see just how sociopathological Gordon’s (and those in power in general) mindset is. He truly does not see the harm he is greatly responsible for. He has no clue about the suffering and trauma that his decisions result in—in fact, he considers himself a model citizen and member of the community.
This is crucial for we who care about life on Earth, and Earth herself. Those in power will not—and most of the time CANNOT—stop voluntarily. They must be stopped by force; by any means necessary. Jensen, and publisher PM Press, set a courageous example, both with the message of the book and with the publication thereof. There is no doubt about the crises we all face, and no doubt we must think outside the neat little box provided to us by those we seek to stop. We must “step outside the lines.” The time is ripe—let us all, every single one of us, ensure the opportunities do not rot.