The Civilization Story

Derrick Jensen on Civilization

Vídeo de YouTube

A short clip from our 2005 interview with Derrick Jensen, author of "A Language Older Than Words" (2000), "The Culture of Make Believe" (2002), "Endgame, Volumes 1 & 2" (2006), and "What We Leave Behind (with Aric McBay)" (2009).

Derrick Jensen re-claims the original meaning of the term as a society characterized by the construction of cities (this is where the word comes from), 
and points out that cities are by definition un-sustainable: they are characterized by concentrations of humans so big that they can't possibly sustain themselves with their land-base (the area of the city) so have to take resources from outside of the city (which they don't see, care about or identify with, meaning it's too easy for them to effectively steal from others (humans & non-humans) - which is what happens.

Another logical result is that, in stealing resources, cities tend to steal more than they need, which in turn leads to population-growth, and so the extension of the city (witness todays' mega-cities, which are predicted to keep growing), and then the extention of the land-base robbed.

The simple re-definition of terms (which however requires some emotional work to understand and adopt) then logically leads us to see 'Civilization' as meaning (being the root of) the same as "Destructo-Culture".  

If, then, we are serious about designing a PermaCulture, that in turn makes this statement totally obvious:

The longer we wait for civilization to crash
—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—
the messier will be the crash, 
and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans 
who live during it, and for those who come after. 

Excerpt, - pp. 17-18, 22-23 of chapter entitled Civilization

from “Endgame, Volume I: The Problem of Civilization”

 Thank you to Katie. 

If I’m going to contemplate the collapse of civilization, I need to define what it is…. I would define civilization…as a culture – that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts – that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined – so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on – as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life. 

Thus a Tolowa village five hundred years ago where I live in Tu’nes (meadow long in the Tolowa tongue), now called Crescent City, California, would not have been a city, since the Tolowa ate native salmon, clams, deer, huckleberries, and so on, and had no need to bring in food from outside.

 Thus, under my definition, the Tolowa, because their way of living was not characterized by the growth of city-states, would not have been civilized. 

On the other hand, the Aztecs were. Their social structure led inevitably to great city-states like Iztapalapa and Tenochtitlán, the latter of which was, when Europeans first encountered it, far larger than any city in Europe, with a population five times that of London or Seville. 

Shortly before razing Tenochtitlán and slaughtering or enslaving its inhabitants, the explorer and conquistador Hernando Cortés remarked that it was easily the most beautiful city on earth. 

Beautiful or not, Tenochtitlán required, as do all cities, the (often forced) importation of food and other resources. 

The story of any civilization is the story of the rise of city-states, which means it is the story of the funneling of resources toward these centers (in order to sustain them and cause them to grow), which means it is the story of an increasing region of unsustainability surrounded by an increasingly exploited countryside.


[There is] a characteristic of [our] civilization unshared even by other civilizations. 

It is the deeply and most-often-invisibly held beliefs that there is really only one way to live, and that we are the one-and-only possessors of that way.

 It becomes our job then to propagate this way, by force when necessary, until there are no other ways to be. 

Far from being a loss, the eradication of these other ways to be, these other cultures, is instead an actual gain, since Western Civilization is the only way worth being anyway: we’re doing ourselves a favor by getting rid of not only obstacles blocking our access to resources but reminders that other ways to be exist, allowing our fantasy to sidle that much closer to reality; and we’re doing the heathens a favor when we raise them from their degraded state to join the highest, most advanced, most developed state of society. 

If they don’t want to join us, simple: we kill them. 

Another way to say all of this is that something grimly alchemical happens when we combine the arrogance of the dictionary definition, which holds this civilization superior to all other cultural forms; hypermilitarism, which allows civilization to expand and exploit essentially at will; and a belief, held even by such powerful and relentless critics of civilization as Lewis Mumford, in the desirability of cosmopolitanism, that is, the transposability of discoveries, values, modes of thought, and so on over time and space. 

The twentieth-century name for that grimly alchemical transmutation is genocide: the eradication of cultural difference, its sacrifice on the altar of the one true way, on the altar of the centralization or perception, the conversion of a multiplicity of moralities all dependent on location and circumstance to one morality based on the precepts of the ever-expanding machine, the surrender of individual perception (as through writing and through the conversion of that and other arts into consumables) to predigested perceptions, ideas, and values imposed by external authorities who with all their hearts – or what’s left of them – believe in, and who benefit by, the centralization of power. 

Ultimately, then, the story of this civilization is the story of the reduction of the world’s tapestry of stories to only one story, the best story, the real story, the most advanced story, the most developed story, the story of the power and the glory that is Western Civilization.

Bringing Down Civilization 

Part 1
Derrick Jensen 2004 11 06

Vídeo de YouTube

Summary: Why do we act as we do? What are sane and effective responses to outrageously destructive behavior? If civilization is destroying us and the earth, do we need to bring down civilization?

Bright Green vs. Deep Green

Although more and more people agree that we must undertake massive changes to address the environmental crises, there is disagreement as to what approach to take. At the risk of oversimplification, most solutions fall into one of two camps. We call them “Bright Green” and “Deep Green.”

Bright Green solutions rely on government legislation, technological innovations and structural adjustments. Examples include massive investments in energy efficiency, developing cleaner energy sources, reducing car dependence, and converting to local and organic agriculture. Bright Green tends to emphasize the positive, and eschew anger and fear as counter-productive.

Deep Green solutions are based on the belief that technological innovations, no matter how well intentioned, inevitably lead to accelerated resource depletion and more pollution. It views the reliance on technology to address the crises as akin to putting out a fire with gasoline. The Deep Green is more likely to look at pre-industrial and pre-civilization ways of living as solutions to the crises. In fact, many believe that the quicker we dismantle the apparatus of our civilization, the greater chance we have for survival.

Deep Green sees fear and anger as rational responses to the scale of the rape of the natural world and the destructive nature of society. The Deep Green movement channels that energy into actively bringing down the apparatus of civilization and creating communities based on the values and social structures of the original peoples. That said, the Deep Green movement also values joy, happiness connection, and positive action, but does not value-judge them to be more valid or productive than fear, anger or direct action.

Bright Green and Deep Green do overlap in their shared desire for structural adjustments. The main difference here would be in “how much” and “how quickly.” Whereas Bright Green wants us to ease into changes that won’t alienate people, Deep Green sees an urgency for profound change and that it is unavoidable that this will be a difficult transition.

The Bright Green movement, because it “feels” better and does not threaten the dominant power structure, gets the vast majority of attention in the press and in public discourse. This is a travesty. The environmental crisis we face is so massive that, at a minimum, we need to consider every possible strategy.

Fertile Ground is a community that is part of the Deep Green movement. We share a belief that Deep Green provides solutions that not only address the magnitude of the problem, but also offer a foundation for the kind of community we want to live in.

One major job we have as Integral Permaculture designers is to re-define the term "Civilization".

Here is the current definition, and the myth we LIVE BY is that it's something to preserve at all costs:

"Civilized" in the Destructo-Culture means (from

  1. having an advanced or humane culture, society, etc.
  2. polite; well-bred; refined.
  3. of or pertaining to civilized people:  The civilized world must fight ignorance.
  4. easy to manage or control; well organized or ordered: The car is quiet and civilized, even in sharp turns.

<< Here is a much more scientific definition (thankyou Derrick Jensen - also see Daniel Quinn), which requires us to redesign the "civilization is the pinnacle of human achievement myth" - if we are to stop the massacre of the last few existing truly sustainable societies, and join them in living saner, happier, healthier lives. 

"Civilization" in the Destructo-Culture means ...

  1. an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture,science, industry, and government has been reached.
  2. those people or nations that have reached such a state.
  3. any type of culture, society, etc., of a specific place, time, or group: Greek civilization.
  4. the act or process of civilizing or being civilized : Rome's civilization of barbaric tribes was admirable.
  5. cultural refinement; refinement of thought and cultural appreciation: The letters of Madame de Sévigné reveal her wit and civilization.
  6. cities or populated areas in general, as opposed to unpopulated orwilderness areas: The plane crashed in the jungle, hundreds of miles from civilization.
  7. modern comforts and conveniences, as made possible by science andtechnology: After a week in the woods, without television or even running water,the campers looked forward to civilization again.

There is a LOT of emotional work we need to do in order to truly understand the depths of the colonialist patterns we are (unawarely) perpetuating whilst we live out our deep belief in the civilization myth.  

Which is why this curriculum starts with Module1, People-Care where you can find tools to process the emotions that get in our way of even wanting to hear about such re-storying, and why we can't think effectively on top of deeply ingrained hurts & the prejudices that come with them.

Emotions are very important, we ignore them at our peril, but not for the reasons we usually think ...