Derrick Jensen

Last updated
Derrick Jensen
Jensen in January 2020
Born (1960-12-19) December 19, 1960 (age 59)
OccupationEnvironment activist and writer
Alma mater Colorado School of Mines (B.S.)
Eastern Washington University (M.F.A.)
GenreGlobal warming, ecology, social justice

Derrick Jensen (born December 19, 1960) is an American author, ecophilosopher, radical environmentalist, and anti-civilization advocate. [1] [2] According to Democracy Now! , Jensen "has been called the poet-philosopher of the ecological movement." [3]


As well as presenting a love letter to the natural world, 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. [4] 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, [5] and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington. [6] He has taught creative writing at Pelican Bay State Prison and Eastern Washington University. [7]



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 [8] 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)," [9] 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." [9] 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 [8]

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, [10] including nonhuman animals and plants. For example, in an article on water management, he refers to "both human people and fish people". [11]

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." [12]

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, [13] 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". [14]

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, [15] 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." [3] 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 mindsetis the world's primary problem. [13] Recurrent topics in his books and talks include critiques of cosmeticism (as e.g. defined by William Catton), lifestyleism, [11] [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 JensenKeithOccupyOakland2011.png
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] [lower-alpha 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] [lower-alpha 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

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. In the emails," Jensen states that DGR members were assaulted and violently threatened by transgender anarchist activists at an anarchist event. He also condemns the failure of anarchists to intervene to help the DGR members, calls anarchists liars, and says to a trans woman, "You are not a woman. You are a man who believes he is a woman." [33]
  2. The book was assigned an ISBN and OCLC identifier, although no copies are available. Jensen, Derrick. Anarchism and the Politics of Violation. Seven Stories Press. ISBN   978-1-60980-877-8. OCLC   1023053668. (unpublished)

Related Research Articles

Civilization Complex state society

A civilization is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification, a form of government and symbolic systems of communication such as writing.

Anarcho-punk is punk rock that promotes anarchism. Some use the term broadly to refer to any punk music with anarchist lyrical content, which may figure in crust punk, hardcore punk, folk punk, and other styles.

Anarcho-primitivism is an anarchist critique of the origins and progress of the Industrial Revolution and industrial society. According to anarcho-primitivism, the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural subsistence during the Neolithic Revolution gave rise to coercion, social alienation and social stratification. Anarcho-primitivists advocate a return to non-"civilized" ways of life through deindustrialization, abolition of the division of labor or specialization and abandonment of large-scale organization technologies.

Green anarchism is an anarchist school of thought that puts a particular emphasis on environmental issues. A green anarchist theory is normally one that extends anarchism beyond a critique of human interactions and includes a critique of the interactions between humans and non-humans as well. This often culminates in an anarchist revolutionary praxis that is not merely dedicated to human liberation, but also to some form of nonhuman liberation and that aims to bring about an environmentally sustainable anarchist society. Important early influences were Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Élisée Reclus. In the late 19th century, green anarchism emerged within individualist anarchist circles in Cuba, France, Portugal and Spain.

Peter Wright, was bass guitar player and vocalist for anarchist punk band Crass, from 1977 until 1984. Occasionally he is credited as Pete Wrong on the band's record covers. After the dissolution of Crass he formed the performance art duo, Judas II.

Anarchism in the UK initially developed within the context of radical Whiggery and Protestant religious dissent. Both during the English Civil War and the First Industrial Revolution, English anarchist thought developed in the context of revolutionary working class politics and an anti-establishment ethos.

Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, often shortened as The Motherfuckers or UAW/MF, was an anarchist affinity group based in New York City. This "street gang with analysis" was famous for its Lower East Side direct action and is said to have inspired members of the Weather Underground and the Yippies.

Species Traitor is a sporadically published journal of insurrectionary anarcho-primitivism. It is printed as a project of Black and Green Network and edited by anarcho-primitivist writer, Kevin Tucker.

Ramsey Kanaan is a Lebanese-Scottish publisher and distributor of anarchist literature, best known as the founder of AK Press, named after his mother Ann Kanaan. He left AK in 2007 to found a new radical publisher, PM Press.

Miguel García García (1908–1981) was a Spanish anarchist and writer. He was a political prisoner during the Franco era.

Clément Duval French criminal

Clément Duval was a famous French anarchist and criminal. His ideas concerning individual reclamation were greatly influential in later shaping illegalism. According to Paul Albert, "The story of Clement Duval was lifted and, shorn of all politics, turned into the bestseller Papillon."

<i>Endgame</i> (Jensen books) books by Derrick Jensen

Endgame is a two-volume work by Derrick Jensen, published in 2006, which argues that civilization is inherently unsustainable and addresses the resulting question of what to do about it. Volume 1, The Problem of Civilization, spells out the need to immediately and systematically destroy civilization. Volume 2, Resistance, is about the challenging physical task that dismantling civilization presents.

Criticism of technology is an analysis of adverse impacts of industrial and digital technologies. It is argued that, in all advanced industrial societies, technology becomes a means of domination, control, and exploitation, or more generally something which threatens the survival of humanity. Some of the technology opposed by critics includes everyday household products, such as refrigerators, computers, and medication.

Deep ecology Ecological and environmental philosophy

Deep ecology is an environmental philosophy which promotes the inherent worth of all living beings regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs, plus the restructuring of modern human societies in accordance with such ideas.

Gabriel Kuhn political writer and translator based in Sweden

Gabriel Kuhn is a political writer and translator based in Sweden.

Deep Green Resistance organization

Deep Green Resistance (DGR) is a radical environmental movement that views mainstream environmental activism as being ineffective. The group believes that industrial civilization, as they define it, is endangering the environment, and that it must be destroyed using a broad range of tactics including militancy.

Lierre Keith American feminist and environmentalist activist

Lierre Keith is an American writer, radical feminist, food activist, and radical environmentalist.

Stephanie McMillan American political cartoonist, editorialist, and activist

Stephanie McMillan is an American political cartoonist, editorialist, and activist from South Florida. A granddaughter of the German commercial animator Hans Fischerkoesen, McMillan aspired to become a cartoonist from the age of ten. During her high school years, she began organizing protests against capitalism and imperialism.

Autonomous social centers are self-organized community centers in which anti-authoritarians put on voluntary activities. These self-managed spaces, often in multi-purpose venues affiliated with anarchism, can include bicycle workshops, infoshops, libraries, free schools, free shops, meeting spaces and concert venues. They often become political actors in their own right.

Hatta Shūzō was a Japanese anarchist, founder of the "pure anarchism" school of thought. He was born in the town Tsu of Mie Prefecture, and lost his parents when he was a child. He was a leading figure of the anarchist movement in Japan. He not only translated the works of prominent anarchist European thinkers, he also advanced their theories. He was a fierce opponent of capitalism and syndicalism.


  1. Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press ( ISBN   1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  2. 1 2 "Frequently Asked Questions of Deep Green Resistance" . Retrieved 2019-11-10.
  3. 1 2 Jensen, Derrick (26 November 2010). "Author and Activist Derrick Jensen: "The Dominant Culture is Killing the Planet ... It's Very Important for Us to Start to Build a Culture of Resistance"". Democracy Now! (Interview). Interviewed by Amy Goodman.
  4. "Amazon: Derrick Jensen" . Retrieved November 1, 2016.
  5. "... 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)
  6. 1 2 Derrick Jensen.
  7. Jensen, D. (2003). Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution. Context Books. ISBN   1-893956-37-7.
  8. 1 2 Derrick Jensen - Endgame (Speech). YouTube. 2011. Event occurs at 4:57 to 6:52.
  9. 1 2 Jensen, Derrick. (2006). Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press ( ISBN   1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  10. Jensen, Derrick (2013). Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet. PM Press. p. 132. ISBN   9781604868197.
  11. 1 2 "Forget Shorter Showers - Why personal change does not equal political change". Orion . 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2012.
  12. Lierre Keith, ed. (2012). The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution. Seven Stories Press. ISBN   9781609804053.
  13. 1 2
  14. Jensen, Derrick. "Actions Speak Louder Than Words".
  15. "Pacifism as Pathology". The Anarchist Library.
  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. Clancy Sigal's "Hemingway Lives": Art Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry
  19. "Talk at UoMichigan, March 2, 2012; edited transcript (available for subscribers of the "DJ reading club" only)". 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2012.[ permanent 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. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  25. Boal, Ian (2007). "Specters of Malthus: Scarcity, Poverty, Apocalypse". Counterpunch (Interview). Interviewed by David Martinez.
  26. Neumann, Osha (2013). "Apocalypse and the Left". Counterpunch. CounterPunch.
  27. Donnelly, Michael (2013). "Jolie's Choice". Counterpunch.
  28. Scofield, Be (2013). "How Derrick Jensen's Deep Green Resistance Supports Transphobia". Decolonizing Yoga.
  29. "Protect Women, Feminism, and Free Speech". Deep Green Resistance. 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.
  30. "FAQ: Radical Feminism". Deep Green Resistance. 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  31. Matisons, Michelle; Ross, Alexander Reid (2014–2015). "Deep Green Resistance — a critique". Earth First! Journal. Archived from the original on 2014-08-03.
  32. Deep Green Transphobia III: Derrick Jensen’s Hateful Tirade
  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. CounterPunch.
  36. Jensen, Derrick (2013). "Gaslighting in the Age of 'Misgendering'". Counterpunch. CounterPunch.
  37. Jensen, Derrick (10 March 2019). This Is Your Brain On Censorship. YouTube (Podcast). As people may know, I had a book that was meant to come out in November, and the publisher in August pulled the book. And he pulled the book because I dared to critique Queer Theory. And he didn't even cite anything that I had said. He said "I can't find anything you've said that is inaccurate, but it is" - to put it in his words - "a misuse of truth to say these things", whatever that means.
  38. McCain, Robert Stacy (25 September 2019). "Queer Theory Pedophilia Jeopardy". The Other McCain.
  39. Blind Spot @IMDb
  40. First Earth @IMDb
  41. Call of Life @IMDb
  42. END:CIV @IMDb
  43. Visionaries Who Are Changing the World
  44. Press Action ::: Press Action Awards 2006
  45. Derrick Jensen Archived 2007-02-08 at the Wayback Machine