I recently read an excerpt from Derrick Jensen’s book titled “Endgame” that listed ten (of the twenty) premises of industrial civilization and the inherent problems with this form of living. The writing, though perhaps considered extreme and alarmist by some, has correctly described the problem (in my opinion). I wanted to expand on these ten premises that Jensen has authored with my own take on what the opposite end of the spectrum looks like. I have chosen to present only the first ten premises to keep the writing relatively brief.
Jensen has presented these premises of civilization, which can be thought of as individual problems that make this kind of living unsustainable, as promoting violence and inequality, and, ultimately, leading to massive suffering of the inhabitants of civilizations and the landscapes that they have degraded. This kind of living is clearly “egocentric” because individual desires (in most cases these are not actual needs) are placed ahead of the needs of other members of the civilization. Further, the rate of resource consumption by the current members of the society demonstrate that little thought is given for the generations yet to be born. However, there do exist models for other modes of living. Not only have these models been tried, but they also have demonstrated tremendous sustainability and a stewardship of natural resources and genetic health for the unborn generations. These methods of living can be described as “ecocentric” because the health of the landscape is understood to be vitally important to the members of the culture.
In the following paragraphs, I have interwoven the first ten of Jensen’s premises (which are clearly labeled) with one possible description of the cultural quality someone would experience if they were to live in a group that subscribed to a sustainable, nature-based paradigm. The qualities of ecocentric communities presented here largely come from anthropological observations of indigenous people. And while these cultures were not perfect (i.e., some groups did engage in warfare, did practice some form of slavery, and did cause the extinction of some animal species), those cultures did so on scales and to degrees not witnessed in agricultural societies (of note is that some of the warfare noted in hunter-gatherers were actually found in groups that were transitioning or had transitioned to agriculture). Further, indigenous cultures also harbored many beneficial qualities that provide us with a realistic look at truly sustainable living. Keep in mind, the vast and unspoiled natural resources that were present on the North American continent when Europeans arrived approximately 400 years ago were the result of 17,000+ years of inhabitation by members of ecocentric communities, natural resources that are, to various extents, plundered and polluted today.
PREMISE ONE: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.
>>>Ecocentric (i.e., nature-based) communities, such as, but not limited to, small groups of egalitarian hunter-gatherers and herder-gatherers, are sustainable and this has been demonstrated through historical observations from everywhere humans have lived in these formats. These are cultures connected to nature and deeply invested in the next generation. They stand in stark contrast to egocentric (i.e., late agricultural and industrial) societies.
PREMISE TWO: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their land bases to be damaged so that other resources—gold, oil, and so on—can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.
>>>Ecocentric communities hold in the highest regard the landscape (and the elements that comprise it). It is understood that the physical and biological resources support their living and, therefore, cannot be exploited. Cultural patterns of taking and harvesting become established to insure sustainable use.
PREMISE THREE: Our way of living—industrial civilization—is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.
>>>Ecocentric communities are not based on violence nor do they require violence to maintain them. In fact, violence upsets this form of culture (i.e., it is not a factor that promotes the maintencence of them).
PREMISE FOUR: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.
>>>Ecocentric communities are based on social equality and egalitarianism. Though genders usually have different roles, both roles are valued by those cultures. Social hierarchy is not practiced per se and violence directed toward the elders is unnecessary. Elders and tribal leaders are valued because they seek long-term survival of their people (rather than short-term benefit for an exclusive group).
PREMISE FIVE: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.
>>>Ecocentric communities value all members of their community. And while different members have different gifts to share with their community, all of these gifts are deemed necessary to the survival of the group. Elders and tribal leaders do not possess or receive disproportionate amounts of resources.
PREMISE SIX: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.
>>>Ecocentric communities do not require transformation to sane and sustainable ways of living because they practice them daily. Exceptional facts that can be discussed (such as historical island colonizers who caused the extinction of a flightless bird) do not invalidate all of the beneficial practices that these communities have developed and utilize. Nature-based communities have stewarded natural resources in a way that have allowed the egocentric (i.e., industrial) societies to prosper financially (at least for a time).
PREMISE SEVEN: The longer we wait for civilization to crash—or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down—the messier the crash will be, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.
>>>Ecocentric communities do not generate societal and ecological crashes. We should do everything we can to foster such communities because they do not make life horrible for those presently alive or the ones who will be borne into them.
PREMISE EIGHT: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system. Another way to put Premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) require the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your land base.
>>>The needs of the natural world are the needs of an ecocentric community because said community is part of the natural world. There is no distinction, nor perceived isolation or dominion. When the needs of the natural world are considered, the community will also be provided for in the long run.
PREMISE NINE: Although there will clearly someday be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population may occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation). Some will be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear Armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by a crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence. Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default of our culture. Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence—required and caused by the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich—and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world. Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps long- term shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.
>>>Violence and privation are not fundamental (i.e., core) aspects of ecocentric communities. Reduction of population in these communities is unnecessary because various biological, ecological, and cultural factors take care of excessive population size (much as they do in populations of other species of animals).
PREMISE TEN: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.
>>>Ecocentric communities and its members are sane and demonstrate an awareness no longer found in in members of egocentric societies. They understand that their health is connected to the health of the landscape on which they live. They are driven by an urge to experience, celebrate, and have gratitude for life.