Derrick Jensen

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Derrick Jensen
File:Derrick Jensen, 2020 (cropped).png
Born December 19, 1960
  • Writer
  • Author
  • Activist
Language English
Nationality American
Alma mater
Genres Global warming, ecology, social justice
Subjects Ecosophy, Radical environmentalism
Literary movement Environmental movement, Deep Green Resistance


Derrick Jensen (born December 19, 1960) is an American ecophilosopher, radical environmentalist, and anti-civilization advocate.[1][2]

Jensen's writing critiques the effects and concept of civilization, exploring what he describes as its inherent values, hidden premises, and modern links to supremacism, oppression, and genocide, as well as to corporate, domestic, and worldwide ecological abuse.[3] He has consistently called for the guerrilla destruction of civilization and of Western culture, which he views as inherently unsustainable and as an inevitable cause of ecocide.[2]


Jensen holds a B.S. in mineral engineering physics from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, which he attended on a scholarship,[4] and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.[5] He has taught creative writing at Pelican Bay State Prison and Eastern Washington University.[6]



Jensen is primarily an advocate for wild nature and an opponent of civilization, rejecting the notion that it can ever be ethical or sustainable. He describes the linguistically and historically defensible definition of civilization[7] 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 civitas, meaning state or city),"[8] and the definition of city as a group of "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."[8] He explains that, by such definitions, civilizations and cities are both unsustainable:

Two things happen as soon as you require the importation of resources. One of them is that your way of living can never be sustainable, because, if you require the importation of resources, it means you've denuded the landscape of that particular resource, and, as your city grows, you'll denude an ever-larger area. ... And the other thing it means is that your way of life must be based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable because, if you require the importation of resources and the people in the next watershed over aren't going to trade you for it, you're going to take it.
—Derrick Jensen, Book lecture for Endgame[7]

An outspoken critic of human supremacy, Jensen advocates non-anthropocentrism, or ecocentrism, according to which humans should above all actively support the flourishing of natural communities and their many individual species rather than the flourishing of humans alone; and second, that they should extend the status of personhood to all organisms and ecosystems,[9] including nonhuman animals and plants. For example, in an article on water management, he refers to "both human people and fish people".[10]

His view, which moves central moral focus away from civilized humans, also names and castigates some of the values most championed by modern civilization, including technological advancement, economic growth, the inevitability of progress, and sustainability as seen through the lens of "development". Jensen advocates a way of life that is harmonious in a truly ecological sense and is thus lastingly sustainable. He claims that "the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded Westerners generally perceive listening to the natural world as a metaphor as opposed to the way the world really is."[11]

Jensen argues that dysfunctional and antisocial behaviors pervade civilization. His analysis views macrocosmic abuses through the microcosmic lens of domestic abuse and violence, noting the connection between abusive personal relationships and the oppressive, expansionist culture as a whole. The psychopathology of modern civilization's global, industrial economy obliterates healthy personal relationships as well as the natural environment.

Jensen exhorts readers and audiences to help bring an end to industrial civilization, promoting its dismantling by any means necessary,[12] thus challenging pacifism, since he believes that violence may be justified at times, particularly as a form of self-defense or resistance against oppression. In A Language Older Than Words and his article "Actions Speak Louder Than Words", Jensen writes, "Every morning when I awake I ask myself whether I should write or blow up a dam. I tell myself I should keep writing, though I'm not sure that's right".[13]

Inspired by the potential for success of the crushed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (when compared to the inevitable annihilation of Warsaw's non-rebelling Jews) and his being attacked by various mother animals in perceived defense of their babies,[14] Jensen supports the violence used by oppressed people and wild creatures in their own defense as a viable strategy against even their most powerful enemies.

But Jensen has clarified that "I get accused of being the 'violence guy'...but I don't ever think that's really fair, because I really consider myself the 'everything guy', that I want to put everything on the table and talk about all forms of resistance ... We can certainly parse out cases where we think it's appropriate to have militant response or non-militant response."[15] He has been described as anarcho-primitivistic,[16][17][18] a label he once accepted, though more recently he has distanced himself from both the terms "anarchist" and "primitivist," especially criticizing modern anarchism's herd mentality.[citation needed]

With respect to the question of human overpopulation, Jensen concedes that it is a social and environmental problem but only at a "tertiary" level, and that overconsumption—along with civilization and its ruthless, expansionist cultural mindset—is the world's primary problem.[12] Recurrent topics in his books and talks include critiques of cosmeticism (as e.g. defined by William Catton), lifestyleism,[10][19] Gandhism, and other "bright green" or mainstream liberal schools of political thought.


A Language Older Than Words uses the lens of domestic violence to look at the larger violence of Western culture. The Culture of Make Believe begins by exploring racism and misogyny, then examines how this culture's economic system leads inevitably to hatred and atrocity. Strangely Like War is about deforestation. Walking on Water is about education (it begins: "As is true for most people I know, I've always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?").[20] Welcome to the Machine is about surveillance and more broadly about science and what Jensen perceives to be a Western obsession with control.

Endgame is interspersed with what Jensen describes as the inherent unsustainability of civilization. In this book, he asks, "Do you believe that this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living?" Nearly everyone he talks to says no. His next question is: "How would this understanding—that this culture will not voluntarily stop destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist—shift our strategy and tactics? The answer? Nobody knows, because we never talk about it: we're too busy pretending the culture will undergo a magical transformation." Endgame, he says, is "about that shift in strategy, and in tactics."[21]

Most of Jensen's writing uses the first-person and personal experiences to construct arguments. His books are written like narratives, without a linear, hierarchical structure. They are not divided into sections devoted to individual arguments. Instead, his writing is conversational, leaving one line of thought incomplete to move on to another, returning to the first again at some later point. Jensen uses this creative nonfiction style to combine his artistic voice with logical argument. He often uses quotations as reference points for ideas explored in a chapter. (For example, he introduces the first chapter of Walking on Water with a quote from Jules Henry's book Culture Against Man.)[22]

In 2008, Jensen wrote Thought to Exist in the Wild (with photographs by Karen Tweedy-Holmes), which discussed the keeping of animals in zoos both physically and philosophically. Jensen wrote and Stephanie McMillan illustrated the graphic novels As the World Burns (2007) and Mischief in the Forest (2010).

Resistance Against Empire consists of interviews with J. W. Smith (on poverty), Kevin Bales (on slavery), Anuradha Mittal (on hunger), Juliet Schor ("globalization" and environmental degradation), Ramsey Clark (on US "defense"), Stephen Schwartz (editor of The Nonproliferation Review, on nukes), Alfred McCoy (politics and heroin), Christian Parenti (the US prison system), Katherine Albrecht (on RFID), and Robert McChesney (on (freedom of) the media) conducted between 1999 and 2004.

Lierre Keith (left) and Derrick Jensen (right) with Deep Green Resistance at Occupy Oakland in 2011

Jensen co-wrote the book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet with Lierre Keith and Aric McBay. Jensen's contribution consists of end-of-chapter responses to common queries he gets about bringing down civilization. The bulk of the book is by the other two authors and covers the history of effective militant resistance movements such as parts of the U.S. civil rights movement and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), while also outlining potential strategies for above- and below-ground resistance to civilization, termed Decisive Ecological Warfare. After the book's publication, the authors co-founded an organization by the same name. McBay left the organization in 2012, attributing his departure to the alleged cancellation of a transgender-inclusive policy by Jensen and Keith.[23] Deep Green Resistance has disputed this account, saying that the decision to restrict women's spaces was made by the women of DGR, not Jensen or Keith.[24]

In 2011, Jensen also published Dreams, which draws on the mythologies of ancient cultures and the wisdom of contemporary thinkers like Jack Forbes, Waziyatawin (a Dakota activist), Paul Stamets, and Stanley Aronowitz and is Jensen's challenge to the view that there is no knowledge outside that gained by science, and Truths Among Us, a thought-provoking collection of interviews with 10 leading writers, philosophers, teachers, and activists who argue against society's belief that corporations and governments know what is best for the future.

Jensen convened the conferences "Earth at Risk", which were held in 2010 and 2011 in San Francisco and Berkeley, California, respectively, with presentations by D.J., Arundhati Roy, William Catton, Rikki Ott, Thomas Linzey, Gail Dines, Jane Caputi, Waziyatawin, McBay, Stephanie McMillan, Keith, and Nora Barrows-Friedman. They were also published on DVD and as a book.

Jensen has written three novels: Lives Less Valuable; Songs of the Dead; and The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad.


Jensen's views are broadly controversial. The radical magazine CounterPunch, in addition to publishing interviews with and articles written by Jensen, has also published commentaries by others who are critical of the potential for Jensen's philosophy to lead followers toward nihilism due to his "apocalyptic" warnings.[25][26]

The organization Deep Green Resistance (DGR), of which Jensen is a founding member, has been accused of transphobia in relation to its radical feminist advocacy.[27][28] DGR has denied this, stating that it merely has "a difference of opinion about the definition of gender" with transgender activists. According to DGR's radical feminism, gender refers to a patriarchal caste system rather than a subjective set of feelings about sexual identity.[29]

Its members claim to be "critical of gender itself. We are not gender reformists—we are gender abolitionists."[30] Earth First!, another radical environmental organization, has dissociated itself from and criticized Jensen and DGR,[31] claiming that leaked private emails reveal Jensen's animosity towards trans people and anarchists.[32][note 1]

Jensen has rarely commented publicly on transgender politics, although in Endgame he briefly mentions transgender people, along with other marginalized groups, in a call for political solidarity.[34] In 2015, CounterPunch published an article in which he claims that trans activists are "liberals" who criticized him primarily because he believes women would be required "to share their most intimate spaces with men ... I believe that women have the right to bathe, sleep, gather, and organize free from the presence of men," in response to DGR members denying a transgender woman membership in a women's caucus space.[35]

Another CounterPunch article claims that Jensen's current beliefs challenge the "gaslighting" "essentialist position" held by "trans activists on their assertions that ... their brain is 'female'."[36]

In March 2019, Jensen said that his book Anarchism and the Politics of Violation had been pulled before publication because he "dared to critique queer theory", and that the publisher, Seven Stories Press, had called it "a misuse of truth".[37][38][note 2]


Jensen was featured in the documentaries What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire (2007), Blind Spot (2008),[39] First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture (2009),[40] Call of Life (2010)[41] and END:CIV (2011).[42]

Honors and awards

  • 2008: Named a "visionary" as one of Utne Reader magazine's "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World."[43]
  • 2006: Named "Person of the Year" by Press Action for the publication of Endgame.[44]
  • 2003: The Culture of Make Believe was one of two finalists for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize.[45]
  • 1995: Critics' Choice for one of America's ten best nature books of 1995, for Listening to the Land: Conversations About Nature, Culture, and Eros.[5]

Published works


Spoken word on CD and DVD

  • Derrick Jensen Standup Tragedy (live double CD), 2002
  • ---- The Other Side of Darkness (live CD), PM Press, 2004
  • ---- Now This War Has Two Sides (live CD), PM Press, 2008
  • Lierre Keith, Arundhati Roy, D.J. & al Earth at Risk (6 DVD set), PM Press, 2012

See also



  1. Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Frequently Asked Questions of Deep Green Resistance". 
  3. "Amazon: Derrick Jensen". 
  4. "... and I couldn't afford to go to college otherwise." The Derrick Jensen Reader (p.438), Seven Story Press, 2012 (ISBN 978-1-60980-404-6)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Derrick Jensen.
  6. Jensen, D. (2003). Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution. Context Books. ISBN 1-893956-37-7. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Template:Cite speech
  8. 8.0 8.1 Jensen, Derrick. (2006). Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  9. Jensen, Derrick (2013). Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet. PM Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781604868197. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Forget Shorter Showers – Why personal change does not equal political change". Orion. 2012. 
  11. Lierre Keith, ed (2012). The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution. Seven Stories Press. ISBN 9781609804053. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 "Derrick Jensen – Endgame". 
  13. Jensen, Derrick. Actions Speak Louder Than Words. 
  14. "Pacifism as Pathology". The Anarchist Library. 
  15. Template:Cite interview
  16. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens; Michael E. Zimmerman (2009). Integral ecology: Uniting multiple perspectives on the natural world. p. 492. 
  17. Bob Torres (2007). Making a killing: the political economy of animal rights. p. 68. 
  18. "Art Means Always Having to Say You're Sorry". August 2, 2013. 
  19. "Talk at UoMichigan, March 2, 2012; edited transcript (available for subscribers of the "DJ reading club" only)". 2012.;O=D. [dead link]
  20. Walking on Water, p. 1.
  21. Endgame V.1, p. 1.
  22. Jensen D., 2004, Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Chelsea Green (ISBN 1-931498-48-2), p. 1.
  23. Aric McBay, "DGR and Transphobia", May 14, 2013.
  24. "Reponse(sic) to Aric McBay". 2013. 
  25. Template:Cite interview
  26. Neumann, Osha (2013). "Apocalypse and the Left". CounterPunch. 
  27. Donnelly, Michael (2013). "Jolie's Choice". 
  28. Scofield, Be (2013). "How Derrick Jensen's Deep Green Resistance Supports Transphobia". Decolonizing Yoga. 
  29. "Protect Women, Feminism, and Free Speech". 2013. 
  30. "FAQ: Radical Feminism". 2013. 
  31. Matisons, Michelle; Ross, Alexander Reid (2014–2015). "Deep Green Resistance — a critique". Earth First! Journal. 
  32. "Deep Green Transphobia III: Derrick Jensen’s Hateful Tirade | Earth First! Newswire". 
  33. "A Short Letter to Earth First! and Anarchists on the Transphobia and Anti-anarchist Positions of Deep Green Resistance". Dysophia. 2013. 
  34. Endgame, V.2, p. 829: "We are the oppressed. We are prisoners, family farmers, animal liberators, women, children, American Indians, blacks, Mexicans, poor whites, Asians, people of the Third World, the indigenous. We are lesbians, homosexuals, transgendered."
  35. Jensen, Derrick (2015). "Liberals and the New McCarthyism". CounterPunch. 
  36. Jensen, Derrick (2013). "Gaslighting in the Age of 'Misgendering'". CounterPunch. 
  37. Template:Cite av media
  38. McCain, Robert Stacy (25 September 2019). "Queer Theory Pedophilia Jeopardy". 
  39. "Blind Spot (2008) – IMDb". 
  40. "First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture (2009) – IMDb". 
  41. "Call of Life (2010) – IMDb". 
  42. "END:CIV (2011) – IMDb". 
  43. "50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World". 
  44. Press Action ::: Press Action Awards 2006
  45. "Derrick Jensen". Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. 

External links

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