Derrick Jensen

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This article is about the environmental activist. For the football player, see Derrick Jensen (American football).
Derrick Jensen
Born (1960-12-19) December 19, 1960 (age 53)
Occupation Environment activist and writer
Citizenship American
Genre Global warming, ecology, social justice

Derrick Jensen (born December 19, 1960) is an American author and environmentalist (and critic of mainstream environmentalism) living in Crescent City, California.[1] Jensen has published several books questioning and critiquing modern civilization and its values, including The Culture of Make Believe and Endgame. He has also taught creative writing at Pelican Bay State Prison and Eastern Washington University.[2]


He holds a B.S. in Mineral Engineering Physics from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado, which he attended on a scholarship,[3] and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington.[4]


Themes in Jensen's work[edit]

Jensen's work is sometimes characterized as anarcho-primitivist,[5][6] although he has categorically rejected that label, criticizing modern anarchist herd mentality and describing primitivist as a "racist way to describe indigenous peoples." He prefers to be called "indigenist" or an "ally to the indigenous," because "indigenous peoples have had the only sustainable human social organizations, and... we need to recognize that we [colonizers] are all living on stolen land."[7]

Jensen sees civilization[8] to be inherently unsustainable and based on violence. He argues that the modern industrial economy is fundamentally at odds with healthy relationships, the natural environment, and indigenous people. He concludes that the very pervasiveness of these behaviors indicates that they are diagnostic symptoms of the greater problem of civilization itself. Accordingly, he exhorts readers and audiences to help bring an end to industrial civilization.

In A Language Older Than Words and also in an article entitled "Actions Speak Louder Than Words", Jensen states "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".[9]

Jensen proposes that a different, harmonious way of life is possible, and that it can be seen in many societies including many Native American or other indigenous cultures. 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."[10] While indigenous peoples understand the world as consisting of other beings with whom we can enter into relationship, Westerners believe that the world consists of objects or resources to be exploited or used.

A recurrent topic in Jensens's books and talks is critique of cosmeticism (as e.g. defined by William Catton), lifestyleism[11] [12] and other "Bright Green Lies" - the title of one of his upcoming books.


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 and moves to examine 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?").[13] Welcome to the Machine is about surveillance, and more broadly about science and what he perceives to be a Western obsession with control.

Endgame is interspersed with what he 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."[14]

Most of Jensen's writing uses the first-person and personal experiences to construct arguments. His books are written like narratives, lacking a linear, hierarchical structure. They are not divided into distinct sections devoted to an individual argument. 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 non-fiction style to combine his artistic voice with logical argument. Jensen 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.)[15]

In 2008, Jensen wrote Thought to Exist in the Wild (with photographs by Karen Tweedy-Holmes), which discussed the keeping of animals in zoos on both a physical and philosophical level. The book won the 2008 grand prize for the Eric Hoffer Award for Books.

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.

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 regarding bringing down civilization. The bulk of the book is written 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 publication of this book, the authors co-founded an organization by the same name. Aric McBay left the organization at the beginning of 2012, however, attributing his departure to the alleged cancellation of a transgender-inclusive policy by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith.[16] Deep Green Resistance has disputed this account, saying that the decision to restrict women's spaces was made by the women of DGR, and not by Derrick Jensen or Lierre Keith.[17]

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 November 2010 and 2011 in San Francisco and Berkeley, CA, respectively, with presentations by D.J., Arundhati Roy, William Catton, Rikki Ott, Thomas Linzey, Gail Dines, Jane Caputi, Waziyatawin, Aric McBay, Stephanie McMillan, Lierre Keith, and Nora Barrows-Friedman, which 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 is primarily a critic of civilization and an advocate for indigenous people and wild nature, but he is also an anti-capitalist, a critic of organized religion (including Buddhism), a critic of science, and a radical feminist. He believes that human overpopulation is a problem, but thinks it is at the level of "tertiary" problems and that over-consumption is the primary problem faced by the world today.[18]

Jensen promotes the dismantling of civilization by any means necessary[18] and so he challenges the non-aggression principle (and its associated form of non-aggression pacifism), believing that violence can sometimes be justified, particularly as a form of self-defense or resistance against the state. Inspired by the quasi-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 much smaller mother animals in perceived defense of their babies,[19] Jensen most highly supports the type of violence used by oppressed people and wild creatures, who he feels have demonstrated it as a viable strategy against even the most powerful enemies. Jensen has clarified, however, 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."[20]


Jensen was featured in the documentaries What a Way to Go: Life at the End of Empire (2007), Blind Spot (2008),[21] First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture (2009),[22] Call of Life (2010) [23] and END:CIV (2011).[24]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 2008: Named a “visionary” as one of Utne Reader magazine’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World.”[25]
  • 2008: Grand Prize winner, Eric Hoffer Award for Books for Thought to Exist in the Wild, Derrick Jensen, Photographs by Karen Tweedy-Holmes.[26]
  • 2006: Named "Person of the Year" by Press Action for the publication of Endgame.[27]
  • 2003: The Culture of Make Believe was one of two finalists for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize.[28]
  • 2000: Hackensack, NJ, Record declared A Language Older Than Words its best book of the year.
  • 2000: Language was nominated for Quality Paperback Book Club's New Vision Award.
  • 1998: Second Prize in the category of small budget non-profit advertisements, as determined by the Inland Northwest Ad Federation, for the first ad in the "National Forests: Your land, your choice" series.
  • 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.[4]

Published works[edit]


Spoken word on CD and DVD[edit]

  • 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[edit]


  1. ^ Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  2. ^ Jensen D., 2003, Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Context Books (ISBN 1-893956-37-7).
  3. ^ "...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)
  4. ^ a b Derrick Jensen.
  5. ^ Sean Esbjörn-Hargens; Michael E. Zimmerman (2009). Integral ecology: uniting multiple perspectives on the natural world. p. 492. 
  6. ^ Bob Torres (2007). Making a killing: the political economy of animal rights. p. 68. 
  7. ^ Blunt, Zoe (2011). "Uncivilized". Canadian Dimension. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  8. ^ He defines a 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 state or city), 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." Jensen D., 2006, Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  9. ^ Jensen, Derrick. "Actions Speak Louder Than Words". 
  10. ^ Lierre Keith, ed. (2012). The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution. Seven Stories Press. 
  11. ^ "Forget Shorter Showers - Why personal change does not equal political change". Orion (magazine). 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2012. 
  12. ^ "Talk at UoMichigan, March 2, 2012; edited transcript (available for subscribers of the "DJ reading club" only)". 2012. Retrieved May 2012. 
  13. ^ Walking on Water, p. 1.
  14. ^ Endgame V.1, p. 1.
  15. ^ Jensen D., 2004, Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Chelsea Green (ISBN 1-931498-48-2), p. 1.
  16. ^ Aric McBay, "DGR and Transphobia", May 14, 2013.
  17. ^ "Reponse(sic) to Aric McBay". 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  18. ^ a b
  19. ^
  20. ^ Jensen, Derrick. Interview with Amy Goodman. Democracy Now!date=26 November 2010  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ Blind Spot @IMDb
  22. ^ First Earth @IMDb
  23. ^ Call of Life @IMDb
  24. ^ END:CIV @IMDb
  25. ^ Visionaries Who Are Changing the World
  26. ^ "HOFFERAWARD.COM". Retrieved 2008-04-27. 
  27. ^ Press Action ::: Press Action Awards 2006
  28. ^ Derrick Jensen

External links[edit]