I hand-wrote this review of the then-new book Deep Green Resistance by Aric McBay and Lierre Keith when I was in prison. It was published in the Mabon-Sept/Oct 2011 issue of the Earth First! Journal. Posting it here for those without the means to get a copy.
The environmental movement must get its ass in gear, and Deep Green Resistance is the transmission. A fierce green rage must burn within us–and this book is the lighter. I have to admit that initially I was skeptical. I thought the book was being falsely presented, that the authors would merely reword the arguments against civilization we’ve already heard and only offer ambiguously timid ideas of what a serious resistance movement to save the biosphere could look like. Holy Earth was I wrong!
This book pulls no punches. I would go so far as to say that it is the boldest and most important work ever published. Cheers to Seven Stories Press and the author for their chutzpah.
Deep Green Resistance demonstrates step-by-step how the dismantling of civilization can and must be achieved through underground and above ground tactics that compliment each other. Too many people think legal and illegal tactics are mutually exclusive. But that is not the case. Now, this isn’t to downplay the absolute necessity of large-scale industrial sabotage; in my mind this is the single crucial element to saving the planet. However, it’s not for everyone. I’m disabled, which automatically excludes me (unless I want to come back to prison or die for a single action, which would overall be counterproductive to the movement). So that Earth–this book lays out explicitly and at length strategies anyone can use to effectively create a culture of resistance and undermine civilization, no matter what their modus operandi is. It accomplishes this in part by analyzing the successes and pitfalls of numerous liberatory efforts, including John Brown’s raid on the Harper’s Ferry armory, the Underground Railroad, French resistance to the Nazis, the Sobibor death camp uprising, womens’ suffrange, the Weather Underground, the IRA, and the most important and instructive one for us–which happens to be ongoing, and which every environmentalist should study–MEND, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
Deep Green Resistance leaves no real room as a whole for contrary arguments, anticipating and answering all objections in a thoroughly thought-out manner. One great instance of this is where the authors refute the common argument that bringing down syphilization would cause immediate suffering and death of wild animals. It would; but Chernobyl is used as a case study. Even though it was a catastrophic environmental disaster, the simple lack of humans has had a profoundly positive effect: bison and wolves and endangered birds have returned and flourished, and the ecosystems damaged by human occupation are recovering, all on their own. Lierre Keith writes, “Even a nuclear disaster is better for living creatures than civilization…this planet could repair herself if we would just stop destroying [emphasis added] (226).”
Aric McBay brilliantly shows the fallacy in both Daniel Quinn’s “plane” analogy and Richard Heinberg’s “lifeboat” analogy for civilization, and how neither think we should actively resist. McBay provides his own alternative analogy. He writes, “Civilization is more like an out-of-control, accelerating streetcar. It is filled with civilized humans; the streets are dense with pedestrians being run down–a representation of all the nonhuman and indigenous life on Earth. Some passengers are concerned: ‘Not to worry,’ one man tells them. His calculations show that the bodies piling up in front of the streetcar will eventually slow the vehicle down and cause it to safely come to a halt” (456).
Of course, no book is without its faults. Lierre Keith names horizontal hostility as one of the main detriments to a radical resistance, yet she engages in it throughout the book. The authors define horizontal hostility as scathing critiques of actual or potential comrades, “often accompanied by hyper-analysis of the victim’s language use or personal lifestyle choices” (138).
But Keith herself hyper-analyzes and critiques the personal lifestyle choices of a broad range of people who could very easily be allies, from vegans to anarchists to tax resisters to pot smokers to squatters. Why risk alienating them? Most of my friends and I fall into one or more of these categories. I am a vegan pot smoker and former tax resister. After all, I am in prison for attempted delivery of 4-10 pounds of marijuana (at least that’s what I pled out to). I planned to use the tax-free revenue for propagandizing, publishing my anti-civ novels, and buying/restoring land. But I guess trying not to give my hard-earned money, obtained through extremely risky behavior, to a corrupt and murderous government shows not my personal choice or morals, but rather my “entitlement” and “stupidity” (154). Keith informs us that pot smokers “aren’t known for their virulence against anything but regular bathing” (124). She also goes on to call some foods served at potlucks (beans and rice, dumpstered mangos, chips and hummus) “poverty food.” Sorry Lierre, not all of us can afford wealth food!
She calls vegans “extreme ideological fanatics” who couldn’t possibly continue on “such body-punishing fare for any length of time” (157). Funny, my fiance will soon be 30–she’s been vegetarian since the age of 13 and vegan since 17. She is super intelligent, bikes 20-30 miles a day, and is a picture of health and vitality. This is just one personal example out of the literal dozens I could give. How could these passages by Keith be interpreted as anything but horizontal hostility? According to her, I am a smelly parasite, a childish mooch, a brain-damaged malnourished fanatic. Thank Earth I was already anti-civ before reading this book! Even someone as open-minded and thick-skinned as I could have been turned off by such hostility. Does this movement really have the mass appeal and numbers to be alienating potential allies? The authors claim to have a zero-tolerance policy for horizontal hostility. Why, then, do they tolerate Keith’s? They write that if we encounter someone practicing horizontal hostility, we should explain to them the problem with it, and ask them to stop. If that doesn’t work, excommunication from the movement should be considered.
Aric McBay provides a much better way of looking at lifestyle choices on page 258. It gets the point across without being patronizing or pejorative in the least. “Pre-Civil War abolitionists would not have owned slaves. But this was an implicit result of their morality and political philosophy rather than a means of change.” See, isn’t that infinitely better? It’s instructive without being off-putting.
Another problem is when Jensen claims that there is no alternative media that would support serious resistance. What about the Earth First! Journal? I would hope and think they would! I know Green Anarchy would. How about CrimetInc? And Submedia?
None of this is to say that DGR should not be read and studied and reread. The organization diagrams of different structures that underground and above ground groups
can take are brilliant and incredibly helpful and though-provoking (294-300). The section on Decisive Ecological Warfare (DEW) is worth the price of the book alone. It lays out an in-depth plan of how a movement to dismantle civilization could look, including concrete tactics for all stripes of activists, from strictly legal weekend warriors to serious full-time direct actionists. A big excuse [to do nothing] for people who think civilization should be brought down is that they have no idea how they could help make it happen. This authors’ bold Decisive Ecological Warfare obliterates these objections. The difference between DEW and every other strategy that has been lain out for saving the planet is equivalent to the difference between Einstein’s theories of relativity to a child’s narrow-sighted naval-gazing. In fact, I believe strongly that this 50-page section of the book should be photocopied and distributed for free at anarchist and radical environmental gatherings. That is how important it is.
The book ends on an appropriately spectacular note. Lierre Keith’s chapter section called “A Story” imagines what the next decade or so could look like if we do indeed act accordingly, given the seriousness of the problems at hand. She wonderfully describes what happens as the electrical grids crash, power lines are downed, logging ceases, dams are taken out, women achieve greater status, population is ethically reduced, the forests regenerate, wetlands restore themselves, democratic, human-scale communities form. It is so beautiful and poetic and life-affirming and exciting. It brought me to tears both times I read it. This is monumental,, given that I’m in prison, living with 19 other men in one room. I’ve cried half a dozen times in my year-plus of incarceration, and maybe two other times from joy rather than sorrow.
Get this book. Read it. Study it. Learn it. Live it. Pass it on. Distro it. It may very well be the key to the final struggle that must happen for life on Earth to continue.