Derrick Jensen

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Derrick Jensen
Born (1960-12-19) December 19, 1960 (age 60)
Occupation Environment activist and writer
Citizenship American
Genre Global warming, ecology, social justice

Derrick Jensen (born December 19, 1960) is an American author and radical environmentalist (and prominent critic of mainstream environmentalism) living in Crescent City, California.[1] According to Democracy Now!, Jensen "has been called the poet-philosopher of the ecological movement."[2]

Jensen has published several books, including The Culture of Make Believe and Endgame, that question and critique civilization as an entire social system, exploring its inherent values, hidden premises, and modern links to supremacism, oppression, and genocide, as well as corporate, domestic, and worldwide ecological abuse.[3] He has also taught creative writing at Pelican Bay State Prison and Eastern Washington University.[4]


He 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]



Derrick Jensen is primarily an advocate for indigenous peoples and wild nature, and an opponent of civilization, rejecting the notion that it can ever be an ethical or sustainable model for human society. 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 civitatis, 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 adheres to a form of non-anthropocentrism: perhaps, ultimately, ecocentrism. First, his ethics advocates for humans to actively support the flourishing of entire natural communities and their many individual species, rather than the flourishing of humans alone. Second, his ethics extends the status of personhood to all organisms and ecosystems,[9] particularly including non-human 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 for a human way of life that is harmonious in a truly ecological sense, and is thus lastingly sustainable, such as the diverse ways of life historically exhibited by many Native American and other indigenous, non-civilized cultures. He also 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] While indigenous peoples understand the world as consisting of other beings with whom we can enter into relationship, he argues, Westerners believe that the world consists merely of objects or resources to be exploited or used.

Jensen argues that the extreme pervasiveness of dysfunctional and antisocial civilized behaviors indicates that they are diagnostic symptoms of the greater problem of civilization itself. His analysis often compares the culture's abuses on the macro-scale through the microcosmic lens of domestic abuse and violence, intimately noting the connections between abusive personal relationships and the oppressive, expansionist culture as a whole. His discourse often, thus, explores the psychopathology of the entire modern society towards a conclusion that civilization and its global, industrial economy is fundamentally at odds with and obliterating healthy relationships, the natural environment (including numerous forms of life and their habitats), and indigenous ways of life. Accordingly, he urgently 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 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".[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 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."[15]

Jensen also considers himself an anti-capitalist, a critic of organized religion (including Buddhism), a critic of science, an anti-racist, and a radical feminist, and he has also been called an "anti-civilizationist."[16] His work has often been labelled anarcho-primitivistic,[17][18][19] which he once accepted; however, he has more recently distanced himself from both the terms "anarchist" and "primitivist," especially criticizing modern anarchism's herd mentality and describing "primitive" 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."[20]

Another topic Jensen addresses is that human overpopulation is a social and environmental problem, but that it is at the level of "tertiary" global problems and that overconsumption—along with civilization and its ruthless, expansionist cultural mindset—are the true root problems faced by the world.[12] Further recurrent topics in his books and talks include critiques of cosmeticism (as e.g. defined by William Catton), lifestyleism,[10][21] 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 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?").[22] 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."[23]

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.)[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

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.


Derrick 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 misinterpreting followers towards nihilism due to his "apocalyptic" warnings.[27][28]

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.[29][30] DGR has denied this, stating merely "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 an internal set of feelings.[31] Its members claim to be "critical of gender itself. We are not gender reformists—we are gender abolitionists."[32] Earth First!, another radical environmental organization, has dissociated from and criticized Jensen and DGR,[33] publishing an online article claiming that leaked private emails reveal Jensen's animosity towards trans people and anarchists.[34][note 1]

Rarely has Jensen himself actually commented publicly on transgender politics, though, in his 2006 book Endgame, Jensen does briefly mention and even identify with transgendered people, along with other marginalized groups, in a call for political solidarity.[36] In 2015, Jensen published a CounterPunch article explaining that he is criticized by trans activists primarily because he believes (female-born) women should not be forced to "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," which his opponents have regarded as offensive towards male-born trans people.[37] Some have defended Jensen's stance on gender, lauding that he challenges "trans activists on their assertions that... their brain is 'female',"[38] on the basis of this being a problematically essentialist position.


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]
  • 2008: Grand Prize winner, Eric Hoffer Award for Books for Thought to Exist in the Wild, Derrick Jensen, Photographs by Karen Tweedy-Holmes.[44]
  • 2006: Named "Person of the Year" by Press Action for the publication of Endgame.[45]
  • 2003: The Culture of Make Believe was one of two finalists for the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize.[46]
  • 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.[6]

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 alleged "leaked emails," Jensen comments that DGR members were assaulted and violently threatened by transgender anarchist activists at an anarchist event. In the emails, Jensen condemns the fact that no anarchists intervened to help the DGR members, generally calls anarchists liars, and refers to a transwoman by saying "You are not a woman. You are a man who believes he is a woman."[35]


  1. Endgame, Volume 1: The Problem of Civilization, Seven Stories Press (ISBN 1-58322-730-X), p. 17.
  2. Goodman, Amy (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"" (Interview). Unknown parameter |program= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Amazon's Derrick Jensen Page"., Inc. Retrieved 2014. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Jensen D., 2003, Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Context Books (ISBN 1-893956-37-7).
  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. 6.0 6.1 Derrick Jensen.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Derrick Jensen - Endgame (Speech). YouTube. 2011. Event occurs at 4:57 to 6:52.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Forget Shorter Showers - Why personal change does not equal political change". Orion (magazine). 2012. Retrieved 24 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Lierre Keith, ed. (2012). The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution. Seven Stories Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. 12.0 12.1
  13. Jensen, Derrick. "Actions Speak Louder Than Words".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "Pacifism as Pathology". The Anarchist Library.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. 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"" (Interview). Interviewed by Amy Goodman. Unknown parameter |program= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. An Open Letter to Jann Wenner: Greetings from Echo Park
  17. Sean Esbjörn-Hargens; Michael E. Zimmerman (2009). Integral ecology: uniting multiple perspectives on the natural world. p. 492.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Bob Torres (2007). Making a killing: the political economy of animal rights. p. 68.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Clancy Sigal's "Hemingway Lives": Art Means Always Having to Say You’re Sorry
  20. Blunt, Zoe (2011). "Uncivilized". Canadian Dimension. Retrieved 24 May 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "Talk at UoMichigan, March 2, 2012; edited transcript (available for subscribers of the "DJ reading club" only)". 2012. Retrieved May 2012. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Walking on Water, p. 1.
  23. Endgame V.1, p. 1.
  24. Jensen D., 2004, Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution, Chelsea Green (ISBN 1-931498-48-2), p. 1.
  25. Aric McBay, "DGR and Transphobia", May 14, 2013.
  26. "Reponse(sic) to Aric McBay". 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Boal, Ian (2007). "Specters of Malthus: Scarcity, Poverty, Apocalypse". Counterpunch (Interview). Interviewed by David Martinez.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. Neumann, Osha (2013). "Apocalypse and the Left". Counterpunch. CounterPunch.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Donnelly, Michael (2013). "Jolie's Choice". Counterpunch.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. Scofield, Be (2013). "How Derrick Jensen's Deep Green Resistance Supports Transphobia". Decolonizing Yoga.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. "Protect Women, Feminism, and Free Speech". Deep Green Resistance. 2013. Retrieved 19 May 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  32. "FAQ: Radical Feminism". Deep Green Resistance. 2013. Retrieved 5 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Matisons, Michelle; Ross, Alexander Reid (2014–2015). "Deep Green Resistance — a critique". Earth First! Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Deep Green Transphobia III: Derrick Jensen’s Hateful Tirade
  35. "A Short Letter to Earth First! and Anarchists on the transphobia and anti-anarchist positions of Deep Green Resistance". Dysophia. 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. 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."
  37. Jensen, Derrick (2015). "Liberals and the New McCarthyism". Counterpunch. CounterPunch.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Gaslighting in the Age of ‘Misgendering'
  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. "HOFFERAWARD.COM". Retrieved 2008-04-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. Press Action ::: Press Action Awards 2006[dead link]
  46. Derrick Jensen

External links