The Culture of Make Believeby Derrick Jensen
Derrick Jensen takes no prisoners in The Culture of Make Believe, his brilliant and eagerly awaited follow-up to his powerful and lyrical A Language Older Than Words. What begins as an exploration of the lines of thought and experience that run between the massive lynchings in early twentieth-century America to today's death squads in South America/b>/b>… See more details below
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Derrick Jensen takes no prisoners in The Culture of Make Believe, his brilliant and eagerly awaited follow-up to his powerful and lyrical A Language Older Than Words. What begins as an exploration of the lines of thought and experience that run between the massive lynchings in early twentieth-century America to today's death squads in South America soon explodes into an examination of the very heart of our civilization. The Culture of Make Believe is a book that is as impeccably researched as it is moving, with conclusions as far-reaching as they are shocking.
Writing with the same driven passion and intense intelligence as his critically acclaimed A Language Older Than Words, which examined the interconnections between personal and social violence, Jensen says this book "is more about racism and far more broadly hate as it manifests itself in our Western world." As in the earlier work, Jensen paints on a huge canvas he details American racism from the genocidal slave trade through lynchings to the 2000 murder of Amadou Diallo by NYC police, and covers a wide range of other cultural horrors as well: the massacres of Native American people, the Holocaust, the 8,000 deaths from the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in India, and the deaths of 500,000 children in Iraq. The book is packed full of startling details South African apartheid laws were enacted at the direct request of the De Beers diamond company to facilitate business; aspects of Christian doctrine supported slavery until about 100 years ago. But the uniqueness and enormous power of Jensen's work is his ability to forge these events into an emotionally compelling and devastating critique of the intellectual, psychological, emotional and social structures of Western culture. Along with greed and globalization he says that the valuing of production over life and the abstract over the particular have set Western culture on a course that will end "really, with the end of the planet." While some readers might take umbrage at his more unsettling associations he compares Hitler's political language to Teddy Roosevelt's Jensen's intricate weaving together of history, philosophy, environmentalism, economics, literature and psychology has produced a powerful argument that demands attention in the tradition of such important books as Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization and Brigid Brophy's Black Ship to Hell.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
This passionate book chronicles the violent hatreds that have been overwhelming our planet, tracing them back through their sources in imperialism, slavery, the rise of global capitalism, and the ideologies of possessiveness and consumerism. Jensen's previous book, A Language Older Than Words, a reflection on family violence and childhood abuse, attracted a wide audience. Here he puts together statistics, bits of history, and reflective interviews with friends and acquaintances to examine a world in which hatred and destruction come all too easily. As in his previous book, his intent is to recall victims as individuals. His focus is on the dangers of abstraction and the economics that result from our viewing people and things as sources of profit and elements in systems. What he intends is not a systematic picture but a stunning collection of horrific close-ups. Africans and Indians are most often in view, and women are never far from his mind. Our disdain for the environment also intrudes frequently. Jensen's solution is a return to the simple life, perhaps much like that of the hunter-gatherers, yet he knows that such a turn must be "the end of civilization." Readers will be moved by his argument, though more likely they will be inspired to look for solutions that let us keep art, science, and the great treasures that go with complex communal life. Surely not all abstract thought is bad, but Jensen's aim is to shock us awake and let us stew in the world's injustices, and at that he duly succeeds.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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At first glance, hate groups may seem to have little in common with the culture at large. We're told that hate groups, while on the rise, remain an aberration and stand in opposition to everything we hold dear. This line of thought holds that while racism may at one time have reigned supreme in this country, we're well on our way to being color-blind and widely tolerant, with the exception of a few white-robed buffoons who chant "White Power" in mush-mouthed accents. No longer, for example, do we allow black men to be lynched with impunity. When a black man was recently dragged to his death behind a pickup, those guilty faced not only lethal injection, but the disgust of an entire nation.
But the gulf between hate groups and the mainstream isn't so vast as that first glance would lead us to suspect. To attempt to really understand hate groups is to begin to burrow into the culture's soft, white, underbelly, and to confront painful truths about who we are, what we believe, and how we act.
* * *
How, exactly, would you define a hate group? The obvious answer is slippery. For example, most people would agree that the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a hate group, the granddaddy of American racist organizations. But literature from the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan states explicitly that the KKK "is not a hate group, but we are a LOVE group. We are a love group because we LOVE America and we LOVE our people." The literature continues, "We don't want those who are only looking for an outlet for their hatred. Hatrednever accomplishes anything. We feel terrible for those who have been victims of non-white crime and anti-white discrimination, but turning your life over to hatred isn't the answer. It will only cause self destruction. On the other hand if you have a deep sense of love for your white brothers and sisters and truly desire for them to have a better life, then your efforts to awaken them to the plot to destroy western Christian civilization will be fruitful. God will bless your efforts which are based on love."
The point seems elementary, but bears being stated explicitly: Either we accept that the KKK isn't a hate group, or we shouldn't blindly rely on a group's self-description. Choosing the former means devaluing the definition of a hate group to mean only those groups whose members aren't sophisticated enough to mask their messages of hate behind claims to virtue. Choosing the latter leads to another question: On what should we rely? The group's actions? If so, then which actions? Murder? If so, are some murders more despicable than others? Does the race, gender, or sexual preference of the victim play into the discussion? Or is the simple number of murders more important? How about the motivation of the killers?
The man in Texas who was dragged to death behind a pickup was killed because he was black. This seems a hate crime, pure and simple. But what if the killers had been more sophisticated than these happened to be, and their rhetoric was not then to be trusted? Had these killers masked their motives with a robbery, would it still be a hate crime? What if they honestly believed their motivation was fiscal, yet simply chose, for whatever reason, to rob only or primarily black people, or only or primarily poor people? And say, then, that most of these robbery victims just happened to end up dying? Would these be hate crimes? Of course you could also say it doesn't really matter: Economics or hate, the victim is dead either way.
* * *
Most of the people convicted of Crimes Against Humanity at the main Nuremberg trials for major war criminals in 1946 were those we would have expected: Hermann Göring, director of the Luftwaffe and founder of the Gestapo; Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the Reich Security Office and second in command of the SS after Himmler; Hans Frank, governor of occupied Poland; and so on. But one personJulius Streicherwas convicted and hanged for the crime of running a newspaper.
"It may be that this defendant is less directly involved in the physical commission of crimes against Jews," one of the prosecutors told the court. "The submission of the Prosecution is that his crime is no less the worse for that reason. No government in the world ... could have embarked upon and put into effect a policy of mass extermination ... without having a people who would back them and support them.... It was to the task of educating the people, of producing murderers, educating and poisoning them with hate, that Streicher set himself.... In the early days he was preaching persecution. As persecution took place he preached extermination and annihilation.... [T]hese crimes ... could never have happened had it not been for him and for those like him.... Without him, the Kaltenbrunners, the Himmlers ... would have had nobody to carry out their orders."
* * *
Perhaps it's not murder as such that defines a hate group, but the attempt to inspire terror in a specific category of victim. That was one purpose, to choose an obvious example, of the Night Riders of the KKK's nineteenth-century incarnation. They visited the homes of black people with the intent of, among many other things, terrorizing them into not using their recently gained right to vote.
Yet here, once again, the definition slips from our grasp. If the definition of a terrorist is anyone who wishes to create terror in a specific category of victim, with the purpose of altering the behavior of the members of that category, does this then mean that anyone who supports imprisonment and especially the death penalty as deterrents to crime is by definition a terrorist? (The same question could be asked, then, of anyone who spanks or threatens to spank a child.) Clearly the stated purpose is to terrify a specific group of people into changing their behavior. That's what deterrence is. And given the rates at which blacks, Latinos, and American Indians, are imprisoned (and on death row), it could be argued that a good part of the judicial and penal systems in the United States constitutes a giant racist, terrorist organization. Simply looking at the numbers it becomes clear that the judicial and penal systems have achieved the segregation of black malesinto prisonson a scale of which the KKK and their puny brethren could only dream.
* * *
The purpose here is not to blur distinctions between the KKK and the U.S. government. Clearly there are differences. But what are the differences, and what are the similarities?
There are many important distinctions; for one thing, if the KKK had the full resources of the state, it would presumably work hard to lock up the other two out of three young black males who've thus far been able to avoid the judicial system.
Another important distinction: The judicial system is part of the governmentour governmentand when we speak of hate groups, we're normally referring to groups acting in opposition to the government, and in opposition to the will of the ultimate governors, the people.
Or are we? To state that governments, and in fact entire peoples, cannot be hate groups pushes us into an absurdity: It would mean that while the American Nazi Party, with its paltry membership is a hate group, the Third Reich, with its death camps, military aggression, slavery, race-based murder, and other crimes against humanity, was not. Given the awesome power of the state to inflict violence and terror on its own and other citizens (remember the Soviet Union?), it seems unwise to arbitrarily exclude nations from consideration as hate groups.
Here is another argument: The judicial and penal systems are imprisoning only criminals, people who've done something to deserve imprisonment. Ostensibly they're not targeting specific races or classes, but statistics as well as racial-profiling policiessuch as routinely stopping motorists for the crime of Driving While Blackput the lie to this. All that said, we need to admit that the judicial and penal systems exist to protect all of society. But this argument leads us just as quickly into difficulty. Most extralegal lynchings were precipitated by some offensereal or imaginedon the part of the victim, and even the modern KKK states that it, too, is protecting society, in this case, against "the plot to destroy western Christian civilization." Don't forget that the Nazi government stated it acted defensively when with due process of law it ordered Jews segregated into concentration camps, or prisons.
Nothing is so simple as, at first glance, it seems.
* * *
In the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Congress defined a hate crime as "a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim ... because of the actual or perceived race, color, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of any person."
Each year the Federal Bureau of Investigation is required by law to compile statistics on the prevalence of hate crimes in the United States. In 1998, 7,755 "bias-motivated criminal incidents" were reported by forty-six states and the District of Columbia. Of these, 4,321 were motivated by racial bias, 1,390 by religious bias, 1,260 by sexual-orientation bias, 754 by ethnicity/national origin bias, twenty-five by disability bias, and the remaining five were the result of multiple biases. The thing that interested me about all this is that none of these were explicitly and solely gender-based. I called my local district attorney and asked, If a hate crime is defined as "a crime in which the defendant intentionally selects a victim ... because of the actual or perceived ... gender," why isn't rape, or, at least, most rape, considered a hate crime? Just as James Byrd, Jr., was chosen to be dragged behind a pickup for no meaningful reason other than his race, so, too, a good percentage of rape victims are chosen for no meaningful reason other than their gender. The D.A. replied that rape is covered under its own law, and needn't be covered separately as a hate crime. I told him the same logic would be true for murder.
"That's my point," he said. "There are as many reasons for rape as there are for murder." he then explained to me that if a man rapes a woman specifically because she's black, it counts as a hate crime. If he rapes her because she's white and dating a black man, it counts as a hate crime. If he rapes her because she's a lesbian, it counts as a hate crime.
"What if," I asked, "he rapes her because she's a woman?"
"Rape by itself isn't a hate crime," he said. "It's a sex crime."
"But if the victim is chosen because she's a woman ...?"
"If you don't like it," he said, with unwarranted testiness, "take it up with the legislature."
Instead, I took it up with the FBI. This time I spoke with a woman. Same question.
She said, "The reason rape isn't included is that the motivation is obviously different. The motivation is not to violate their civil rights, but from a desire to hurt, or from a desire to just have sex."
I asked for the FBI's definition of civil rights.
She looked it up and said: "The rights belonging to a person by virtue of his or her status as a citizen or as a member of civil society."
I asked for the FBI's definition of a hate crime.
She was very patient. She quoted from the FBI uniform crime report: "A hate crime is a criminal offense committed against person, property, or society, which is motivated in whole or in part by the offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity."
No gender this time. One more definition. Rape.
"Carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will."
"The definition doesn't include males," I said.
"Interesting, isn't it?"
"Okay," I said. "Let me get this straight. A woman's, or any person's, civil rights do not include freedom from unwanted carnal knowledge."
"Gender isn't included as one of the protected classes in federal statute."
"What about the inclusion of gender in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994?"
"There's confusion about what is and isn't included. Legislation is pending to include gender as a protected class."
"Okay," I said. "Let's say gender were a protected class. Would rape then be included?"
"Again, the motivation is obviously different. It's not a hate crime."
The difference wasn't obvious to me. My brain hurt. I hung up, and went to a maximum security prison, where I teach creative writing.
* * *
The woman at the FBI had said something that piqued my interest, which was that involuntary servitude, even based on race, does not constitute a hate crime.
I called another FBI spokesperson a few days later. I wanted to know if I understood correctly. "If someone beats a man because he's black, that can be a hate crime."
"If someone rapes a woman because she's Asian, that can be a hate crime."
"If someone rapes a woman because she's a woman, that cannot be a hate crime."
"If someone enslaves a man or otherwise forces him to work because he's black, that cannot count as a hate crime."
I thanked him.
* * *
In 1823, U.S. Supreme Court chief justice John Marshall wrote a decision remarkable for its candor about a subject we would all generally prefer not to acknowledge: The means by which the United States government, and more broadly EuroAmerican culture, took possession of this continent. By now there can be few who still believe the continent was empty when the Pilgrims and other colonists landed here, or that, for whatever reason, the original inhabitantsthe Indiansheld no prior claim to the land. To this day, the federal government admits that 33 percent of the land mass of the continental United States was never ceded by treaty, and, therefore, is held illegally. How, then, does the government, and, once, again more broadly, do we nonnatives, justify possession of this land?
Here's what Marshall had to say about it. In a case called Johnson v. M'Intosh, Marshall declared that "discovery gave title ... which title might be consummated by possession." He reasoned, "However extravagant the pretension of converting the discovery of an inhabited country into conquest may appear; if the principle has been asserted in the first instance, and afterwards sustained; if a country has been acquired and held under it; if the property of the great mass of the community originates in it, it becomes the law of the land, and cannot be questioned." Translation: If conquest forms the basis for your communityif your community would simply not exist without itconquest cannot be questioned.
He was explicit: "However this ... may be opposed to natural rights, and to the usages of civilized nations, yet, if it be indispensable to that system under which the country has been settled, and be adapted to the actual condition of the two people, it may, perhaps, be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by Courts of justice." He also said, "Conquest gives a title which the Courts of the conqueror cannot deny, whatever the private and speculative opinions of individuals may be." Let us translate this as well: If an entire system is based upon an injustice, the Supreme Court can do no other than to codify this injustice into law. To translate it further, and perform a perhaps forgivable anachronism: To kill one Indian may or may not be a "hate crime"; to dispossess an entire culture may "be supported by reason, and certainly cannot be rejected by Courts of justice."
* * *
What is a hate crime? What is hatred? What, for that matter, is a crime? When discussing hate groups, why do we so often constrict our vision to include only the most absurd, the most grotesque, the most individual or small-scale of crimes? Why not go after larger targets? What about hatred or exploitation that is systematic, that is codified, that hides behind the screen of law, religion, philosophy, science? Certainly the Nazis cloaked their hatred of those they decreed untermenschenless than humanin the language of science: eugenics, crazed biological determinism cohabiting with social Darwinism. And what about hatred masquerading as economics? What about, to take an obvious example, apartheid?
Excerpted from The Culture Of Make Believe by Derrick Jensen. Copyright © 2002 by Derrick Jensen. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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