Book Review: "Endgame" by Derrick Jensen

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Endgame Vol I: The Problem of Civilization

Endgame Vol II: Resistance

Authored by Derrick Jensen

Published by Seven Stories Press; 2006; 929 pages

Book Review by Lucine Kasbarian for Hope Dance magazine, Jan. 2007


“The world will be saved, if it can be, only by the unsubmissive.”

- André Gide, as quoted in Endgame


In Endgame, Derrick Jensen describes how the End Times may very well occur on earth as a consequence of excessive appropriation, extraction, misuse and damage of life, land and the ecosystem. As oil companies justify exhausting our natural resources by touting the resilience of Mother Earth as “a tough old gal,” the discerning, such as Jensen, recognize that resource depletion is irreversible. In this book, the environmental activist, teacher, farmer and author of the acclaimed A Language Older than Words and The Culture of Make Believe urgently calls upon people of conscience to dismantle industrialized civilization -- and eradicate an inequitable, toxic and unsustainable society maintained by violence, hypocrisy, occupation, and exploitation -- if we are to avert what some say is the inevitable Apocalypse.


Conjuring vivid imagery with passionate prose, Jensen gives us a glimpse of what is at stake when governmental and corporate entities behave no differently than sociopaths. Jensen (who himself survived brutality and rape at the hands of his father) adroitly draws connections between marauders, tyrannical regimes and domestic abusers. We must hold abusers accountable -- whether for ravaging the environment or humanity.


Since those who render assaults upon civilization will likely not reform voluntarily, Jensen proposes that we use any means at our disposal to confront those who are “destroying the natural world, eliminating indigenous cultures, exploiting the poor, and killing those who resist.” In response to pacifists who maintain that violence doesn’t accomplish anything, Jensen points to interlopers who have profited handsomely to demonstrate the indisputable gains that violence engenders. He advocates that the concerned, powerless, outraged or ill-treated among us fight fire with fire when confronting dubious logging companies, dam builders, slaughterhouses, or arrogant appropriators and wage an armed struggle, if necessary. But, like the disappearing salmon Jensen tells us just might not regenerate, some of those who are violated develop the resilience necessary to fight back, while others never recover to acquire a fighter’s attitude.


Endgame is predicated upon 20 distasteful but all-too-true-premises that humanity lives by, all which give insight into the subjective justification applied by ruling elites. Would-be Endgame readers involved in corporate or colonial enterprises likely wouldn’t recognize themselves in these pages, but may more readily see themselves as enlightened educators, pioneers, liberators, missionaries, capitalists, asylum or fortune seekers, or even Darwinians. Does the woman who commands chainsaw-wielding landscapers to destroy trees as old as the hills (because the foliage compromises the view from her kitchen window) merit having her way because accepted standards of land ownership give her the authority to do so? If consumption is regulated and eco-villages instituted before necessity imposes it, will that erode our constitutional rights? Does the Holocaust entitle Zionists to perpetrate genocide against the Palestinian people and seize land bases in the name of self-defense and self-actualization? If we defend the earth from toxic human influences by eliminating those elements that imperil life and nature when are we entitled to do so, in which cases might we ourselves be committing genocide? Using reasoning, allegory and analogy, Jensen’s writings elicit moral dilemmas and in so doing, show how our own truths can be uniquely personal.


Although the sort of resistance the author proposes may be shocking to the average person, those who have wrestled with the problems Jensen has taken on in Endgame will understand the desperation that provokes the tormented to rise up against injustice. While we can surmise there are security issues that prohibit too much disclosure in Endgame, and the author does cite what other activists have done, Jensen does not spell out where and when violence would be indicated, leaving that up to the reader. The author also acknowledges that he, justifiably, does not have the stomach to inflict violence. The question remains whether Jensen can convince countless wounded others who, with histories and reasons akin to his own, are just as loath to commit atrocity or destruction.


Jensen opens our minds to different ways of seeing, weighing and considering. His ideas are inspirational and present paradoxes that can avert us from thinking in absolutes. The author stops short of providing road maps on how to grapple with the End Times, urging us to consult the myriad ways in which the earth continuously flourished prior to the Industrial Revolution. Unlike manuals such as IntheWake.org , Endgame is not the resource for those seeking practical guidance on how the energy descent will occur, or how to (hopefully) outlive the crash of modern civilization. But if you are looking for provocative, sentient discussions about how and why it is our responsibility to preserve planet earth and the marvels it contains, then Endgame is for you.

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Lucine Kasbarian’s ancestors were forcibly driven from Eastern Anatolia (the Armenian Highlands) during the Turkish genocide of the Armenians. She studies and practices indigenous traditions that face obliteration and is the author of Armenia: A Rugged Land, an Enduring People (Dillon Press/ Simon & Schuster).