The Ecomodernist Manifesto is a program for genocide and ecocide

Perhaps you’ve heard of the false promise of Bright Green Technology? If you couple that with a strong dose of human-centrism, you might have something like Ecomodernism. That’s not a good thing. Deep Green Resistance co-founder Derrick Jensen explains.

Remade by man: the Passenger Pigeon. Juvenile (left), male (center), and female (right), from 'Birds of New York' (University of the State of New York) 1910-1914. Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), Public Domain via Patrick Coin on Flickr.

Remade by man: the Passenger Pigeon. Juvenile (left), male (center), and female (right), from ‘Birds of New York’ (University of the State of New York) 1910-1914. Illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes (1874-1927), Public Domain via Patrick Coin on Flickr.

The idea of a ‘good, or even great, Anthropocene’ as promised in the Ecomodernist Manifesto is purely delusional, writes Derrick Jensen. Worse, it underlies a narrative in which the wholesale destruction of nature and of sustainable indigenous societies is repackaged as a noble mission – one whose ultimate purpose is the complete alienation of humans from the planet that spawned us.

 

 

“If we wish to continue to live on this planet, we need to recognize and remember that it is our only home and that we are dependent upon this planet, and that this dependence is a very good thing.”

Robert Jay Lifton noted that before you can commit any mass atrocity, you must convince yourself and others that what you’re doing is not atrocious, but rather beneficial. You must have what he called a “claim to virtue”.

Thus the Nazis weren’t, from their perspective, committing mass murder and genocide, but were ‘purifying the Aryan Race’. They weren’t waging aggressive war but gaining necessary Lebensraum.

The United States has never committed genocide, but rather has fulfilled its Manifest Destiny. It has never waged aggressive war, but rather has ‘defended its national interest’ and ‘promoted freedom and democracy’.

Today, the dominant culture isn’t killing the planet, but rather ‘developing natural resources’.

This is to say that any culture foolish and insane enough to murder the planet that is our only home would of course be foolish and insane enough to attempt to provide justifications for this murder.

That brings us to An Ecomodernist Manifesto, the same sort of claim to virtue we’ve come to expect from this culture’s several thousand year tradition of nature-hating.

And the Earth is remade by human hands

Heck, the first written myth of this culture is of the hero Gilgamesh deforesting what is now Iraq to build a city and make a name for himself. Fast forward a few thousand years, and that’s the same nature-hating and empire-building story being told in An Ecomodernist Manifesto (and that has been told in myriad ways in between).

The narcissism, entitlement, and gaslighting starts at the beginning: “To say that the Earth is a human planet becomes truer every day. Humans are made from the Earth, and the Earth is remade by human hands.

“Many earth scientists express this by stating that the Earth has entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the Age of Humans. As scholars, scientists, campaigners, and citizens, we write with the conviction that knowledge and technology, applied with wisdom, might allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.”

“The Earth is remade by human hands” … ‘Remade’ is such a nice word, isn’t it? Much better than ‘destroyed, murdered, ravaged, grievously harmed’, don’t you think? Gilgamesh and those who came after didn’t deforest and desertify what was once called the Fertile Crescent, they ‘remade’ it from cedar forests so thick that sunlight never touched the ground into cities and deserts.

The Egyptians and Phoenicians didn’t kill the forests of North Africa, they ‘remade’ them into navies and deserts. This culture hasn’t wiped out 98% of the world’s ancient forests, wetlands, grasslands; it’s merely ‘remade’ them, complete with ‘remaking’ the plants and animals there into extinction.

This culture isn’t killing the oceans; it’s merely ‘remaking’ them such that there probably won’t be any fish. It’s not extirpating elephants and great apes and great cats and two hundred species per day; it’s merely ‘remaking’ them so they’re extinct. It doesn’t commit land theft and genocide against Indigenous peoples, instead it merely ‘remakes’ them and their landbases.

Not all humans – just the powerful ones

Further, the sort of remaking they’re talking about in this Manifesto is not done by all humans, as they claim. It’s done by specific sorts of humans, who feel entitled to take everything on the planet, the sorts of people who might call it a ‘human planet’.

I live on Tolowa Indian land in what is now far northern California. The Tolowa lived here for at least 12,500 years, and when the Europeans arrived, the place was a paradise. There were so many salmon in the rivers that the rivers were “black and roiling” with fish. The Tolowa and Yurok and Hoopa lived here truly sustainably, and could have continued to do so more or less forever.

Members of the dominant culture arrived less than 200 years ago, and immediately embarked on campaigns of extermination – the authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto might call these ‘campaigns of remaking’ – against the human and nonhuman inhabitants.

And what was the point of all of these campaigns of extermination remaking? It was no different in the 1830s than it is now, and it is no different now than it was in the time of Gilgamish.

The point is to allow Gilgamish to create a city and make a name for himself; I mean, to allow the Chosen People to enter the Promised Land; I mean, to allow the superior ones to create an empire upon which the sun never sets; I mean, to allow the superior ones to Manifest their Destiny; I mean, to allow the superior ones to create a Thousand Year Reich; I mean, to allow the superior ones to do so much damage to the planet that they name a fucking geologic epoch after themselves; I mean, to “allow for a good, or even great, Anthropocene.”

The end of violence! Really … ?

The authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto also state: “Violence in all forms has declined significantly and is probably at the lowest per capita level ever experienced by the human species, the horrors of the 20th century and present-day terrorism notwithstanding.”

Who would have guessed that when you redefine violence perpetrated by your culture as not being violence but rather as ‘remaking’, that you can then claim that “violence in all forms has declined significantly”?

I’m not sure members of the two hundred species driven extinct today would agree that “violence in all forms has declined significantly.” Nor would members of Indigenous human cultures being driven from their land, or being exterminated: Indigenous human languages are being driven extinct at an even faster relative rate than are nonhuman species.

But I guess none of this counts as violence in any form whatsoever. Because of this culture’s ‘remaking’ of the planet, wildlife populations across the world have collapsed by 50% over the past forty years. Because of this ‘remaking’, the oceans are acidifying, and are suffocating in plastic. I guess none of this counts as violence in any form.

This ‘remaking’ of the planet is causing the greatest mass extinction in the history of the world, in fact so far as we know the greatest mass extinction in the history of the universe. And violence is down? Only because they don’t count the violence they don’t want to count.

They also don’t count the violence of subsistence farmers being driven from their lands. Nor do they count the violence of humans (and nonhumans) losing their traditional ways of living in this great ‘remaking’. They don’t count the horrors of factory farming or row-crop agriculture.

The rule of law and increased freedom. Oh yeah?

The authors state, “Globally, human beings have moved from autocratic government toward liberal democracy characterized by the rule of law and increased freedom.”

I don’t think those subsistence farmers forced from their land and into cities would agree they’re living in a time of increased freedom. And I don’t think any of us have the freedom to live free of the world this culture is ‘remaking’.

Do I have the freedom to live in a world with more migratory songbirds each year? More amphibians? Do I have the freedom to live in a world not being murdered? This culture gives its victims the choice: “Adapt to the world we are remaking to suit us, or die.” This is not fundamentally different to the choice this culture has long offered Indigenous peoples, of ‘Christianity or death’, or ‘Give away your lands and assimilate, or death.’

Once you give in to this culture, stop defending your land from this culture, become dependent on this culture, work for this culture, identify with this culture, propagandize for this culture, serve this culture, then the culture and its proponents may stop attacking you. But if you don’t give in, you will be exterminated. As we see. And none of this is considered violence.

Living Marxism?

A few years ago I was interviewed by a dedicated Marxist who believes it’s possible to create an industrial system in which all economic exchanges are voluntary, absent of any violence or coercion.

Of course, as with the authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto, he didn’t count violence against nonhumans or the natural world as violence. He also said that cities could exist under such a society.

I asked, “What do you use for transportation?”

He said, “Buses.”

I asked, “Where do you get the metals for the buses?”

“Mines.”

“Where do you get the miners?” Mining is one of the first three forms of slavery, and the primary way to get people into mines has always been coercion, whether it’s at the point of a sword or gun; or through laws such as those of apartheid; or through other means of destroying people’s access to land, and therefore access to food, clothing, and shelter, and therefore self-sufficiency.

He said, “You pay them enough that they’ll do it.”

I said, “What about pollution in the river? We agree that mines pollute, right? It’s impossible to have a mine without harming the land and water and air, right?”

He agreed.

I said, “What about the people who live next to the river which will now be polluted?”

“You pay them to move.”

“What if they’ve lived there for 12,500 years, and their ancestors are there, and they refuse to move?”

“Pay them more.”

“They refuse your money.”

“How many are there?”

“What difference does that make? Let’s say 500.”

He said, “We vote.”

I said, “So the million people in the city vote to take the land from the 500 people who live along the river?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “You do realize that by not questioning the industrial infrastructure, you have moved within one minute from being a staunch advocate for only voluntary economic exchanges, to defending colonialism, land theft from the Indigenous, and democratic empire, right?”

The Ecomodernist goal: ‘decoupling’ humans from the natural environment

Cities have always depended on a countryside (also known as colonies, also known as nature) to exploit.

The authors state, “Whether it’s a local indigenous community or a foreign corporation that benefits, it is the continued dependence of humans on natural environments that is the problem for the conservation of nature.”

Often those trying to justify the destructiveness of this culture conflate Indigenous people living in place and affecting their landbase with the clearly destructive activities of transnational corporations. The claim seems to be: because humans lived someplace, and affected the land there (as every being will affect all other beings: the bacteria who live inside of you affect you, some in very positive ways), then that gives the dominant culture carte blanche to act however it wants.

As the anti-environmentalist Charles Mann puts it: “Anything goes … Native Americans managed the continent as they saw fit. Modern nations must do the same.”

This is, of course, completely insane (and self-serving). Anyone with integrity understands the difference between Indigenous peoples living in the same place for 12,500 years and the place being capable of supporting them for another 12,500 years, and the dominant culture extracting resources to make a buck (oh, sorry, ‘remaking’ the place).

Of course humans affect the land. Salmon affect the land. Alder trees affect the land. Beavers affect the land. Prairie dogs affect the land. Wolves affect the land. Oyster mushrooms affect the land. But the question becomes: does your presence on the land help make the land healthier? There’s a world of difference between participating in a living landbase on one hand; and extracting resources or ‘remaking’ the land on the other. The former is a relationship; the latter is theft, murder, and control.

We are part of this planet – and we better get used to it

It was said of the Indians of northern California that they of course made decisions that affected the land (just as do salmon, redwood trees, and everyone else), but that these decisions were made on the understanding that the people were going to be living in that same place for the next five hundred years. In other words, their decisions were made based on their embodied understanding that their own health was entirely dependent upon the health of the land.

This is precisely the opposite of what those who promote extractive economies do, and it is precisely the opposite of what the authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto propose. They propose that the ‘problem’ is “the continued dependence of humans on natural environments.”

But that’s not the ‘problem’. That’s the reality. We live on the Earth, our only home, our only source of air, water, food, shelter, our only source of everything that brings life. It is physically impossible to ‘decouple’, to use one of the favored words of the Manifesto’s authors, the health of the land from the long term health of those who are dependent upon this land.

Sure, you can steal from the land to build a city and a navy, and use that city and navy to conquer more land. Sure, you can continue on a path of expansion across the globe, cutting down forests and draining wetlands and damming rivers and making dead zones in oceans and extirpating nonhumans and stealing land from Indigenous peoples who were living there sustainably, so long as there are always new forests to cut down, new prairies to convert to croplands (and then to wastelands).

So long as there are new frontiers to violate and exploit, new places to conquer and steal from (sorry, ‘remake’) you can continue to overshoot carrying capacity and destroy the planet. And in the meantime, you can build a hell of a big city and a hell of a big name for yourself. But you should never pretend that can be sustainable.

The authors ask, “Given that humans are completely dependent on the living biosphere, how is it possible that people are doing so much damage to natural systems without doing more harm to themselves?”

I keep thinking about what might be the internal and social experience of bacteria on a petri dish. At some point, a few of the bacteria might say, “There are limits to how much we can grow. Do you think we should start planning on how to live here sustainably?”

Others respond, “Things have never been better. If we just keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll create not only a good but great bacteriocene!”

The naysayers again point out that the petri dish is finite. They’re shouted down by the optimists, who say, following the authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto, “To the degree to which there are fixed physical boundaries to … consumption, they are so theoretical as to be functionally irrelevant.”

The Ecomodernist bacteria insist that what’s really necessary is to decouple (one of their favorite words, too) their own well-being from that of the petri dish. This discussion flourishes until the end, when the ‘remade’ petri dish can no longer support life.

The industrial monoculture diet – you call that ‘rich’?

I briefly want to point out one more explicit lie, and one more false conceit. The explicit lie is, “The average per-capita use of land today is vastly lower than it was 5,000 years ago, despite the fact that modern people enjoy a far richer diet.”

First, ‘average per-capita use of land’ is a ridiculous measure of ecological or social health. The point of life is not, as the Bible suggested, to “go forth and multiply.” The point is not, to move this to the 21st century, to project capitalism’s definition of success onto the real world and try to ‘get large or get out’.

The point is and always has been the health of the land. A society with fewer members living in a long-term participatory, mutual relationship with the land is a far better measure of ecological and social health than is how much land each person requires.

A sane culture would figure out how many people a piece of land can permanently (and optimally) support, and then make sure they’re below that number. An insane culture would overshoot carrying capacity and then consider itself superior because it (temporarily) supports more people per square mile.

But that’s not even the main lie, which is the absurd claim that “modern people enjoy a far richer diet.” Right now just three plants – rice, wheat, and millet – provide 60% of humans’ food energy intake, and 15 plants provide 90%. Further, the provision of these foods is increasingly controlled by large corporations: four corporations control 75% of the world grain market. We can make similar statements about other food markets.

In contrast, the diet of hunter gatherers routinely included scores or hundreds of varieties of plants, plants not controlled by distant corporations. This is crucial, because if those in power can control a people’s food supply they can control their lives, which means they can force them to work for the elites: so much for the ‘freedom’ of this new ‘remade’ world.

And then there’s the fact that no one can anymore eat passenger pigeons, Eskimo curlews, great auks, or any of the other food staples this culture has caused to go extinct in its great remaking. And these days with the best tasting fish generally having been driven (at least commercially) extinct, increasingly corporations are selling what were once considered ‘trash fish’ as luxuries. All of this is one reason the corporate press is increasingly praising insects as food: we’ve either destroyed or are destroying other foodstocks.

So it’s simply a lie to say modern diets are richer.

Human and planetary health are inseparable – like it or not

And finally, for the primary conceit of the Manifesto, which is that the world can be ‘remade’ without destroying it. Let’s test their thesis. Name five biomes that have been managed for extraction – ‘remade’, to use their term – by this culture that have not been significantly harmed on their own terms.

Okay, let’s try four.

Three?

Two?

Okay, name one.

It can’t be done. Over the past several thousand years, this culture hasn’t managed for extraction a single biome without significantly harming it.

They say one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. How stupid must our claims to virtue make us if we cannot recognize this pattern, with an unbroken string of failures running several thousand years and at this point literally covering the entire planet, from the deserts of Iraq to the garbage patches in the oceans to the melting icecaps to the dammed and polluted rivers?

Of course if your goal is to ‘remake’ the world to create luxuries for yourself, and if you don’t care that this ‘remaking’ destroys life on the planet, then you might not consider this to be a consistent pattern of failure. You may consider this a great success. Which in and of itself is pretty stupid.

Out of the more than 450 dead zones in the oceans – caused by this culture’s ‘remaking’ of the planet – only one has recovered. It’s in the Black Sea. It recovered not because humans ‘decoupled’ themselves from the earth, but rather because humans were forced to ‘decouple’ themselves from empire.

The Soviet Union collapsed, and this collapse made it so agriculture was no longer economically feasible in the region. In other words, humans could no longer ‘remake’ the world in that place. And the world, or rather, that one small part of the world, began to recover.

The authors of An Ecomodernist Manifesto have it completely backwards. For several thousand years this nature-hating culture has tried as hard as it can to define itself as other than nature. It has tried to separate itself from nature, to pretend it is not of nature. To pretend it is above nature, better than nature. That what it creates is more important than what nature creates. It has tried to pretend that it is not dependent on nature.

If we wish to continue to live on this planet, we need to recognize and remember that it is our only home and that we are dependent upon this planet, and that this dependence is a very good thing.

Far from attempting to ‘decouple’ our well-being from that of the planet – which this culture has been trying to do for a few thousand years now, to the detriment of everyone this culture encounters – we need to recognize and remember that our own well-being has always been intimately dependent on the health of the planet.

And those of us who care about life on the planet must stop those who are currently remaking – read, killing – this planet that is our only home.

Fighting for Mauna Kea: How Liberal and Radical Approaches Differ

The American Southwest, like all of North America, is occupied territory. Its resource are in a constant state of extraction and destruction. What would it take to reclaim the land and the life in it? Deep Green Resistance member and activist Will Falk discusses how we might do so, by distinguishing between liberalism and radicalism.

AUGUST 19, 2015
Liberalism’s Game: the Failure of Settler Solidarity in Hawai’i
by WILL FALK

When I am in Hawai’i, I ask everyone I meet if the United States will ever voluntarily de-occupy the Islands. No one ever says yes. Usually, before I can say anything else, people hurriedly start talking about the lack of a valid treaty or that the American occupation is illegal by their own laws or that the United States will pay for its human rights violations.

I am a haole in Hawai’i, a white settler in the United States. I acknowledge that every square inch of the United States of America exists on stolen native land. Leadership in land based struggles in the United States rests most properly in the hands of indigenous peoples. I will not undermine indigenous leadership, so I direct my thoughts to other settlers.

If no one believes that the United Sates will ever voluntarily de-occupy Hawai’i, why are so many of the movement’s settler supporters so focused on achieving this impossible voluntary withdrawal? Why, for example, do so many settlers spend so much energy supporting a parade in Oahu – a parade that is billed as a march for Hawaiian sovereignty while quietly being a voting drive to encourage participation in the occupying American government? Why do so many settlers hold up expensive court cases relying on American judges who are paid by the American government to make decisions leading to this mythical voluntary de-occupation as the only viable means for de-occupation?

The first answer is privilege. Settlers benefit from the current arrangement of power in Hawai’i. These Islands represent the tourist fantasy to many settlers despite the fact that Hawai’i’s life support systems are inches away from total collapse. The inability of settler support to recognize that Hawaiian de-occupation is our responsibility leads me to conclude that most settlers are not as concerned with Hawaiian liberation as they are concerned with maintaining a feel-good environment that balances settler crises of conscience while never threatening settler access to Hawai’i. Hawai’i does not have time to coax these settlers from their positions of privilege. So, I direct my thoughts to settlers of strong heart who simply suffer from a lack of analysis.

Apart from privilege, the second reason settlers have proven unable to mount a serious solidarity effort with the Hawaiian de-occupation movement is they see no alternative to a liberal mindset. “Wait a minute,” I hear a lot of confused readers saying, “Aren’t liberals good?” No, actually. It’s too late to rely exclusively on liberalism. Hawai’i has been cursed for 122 years of occupation with too much liberalism. Liberalism is the haoles’ game. Liberalism serves the United States of America. Liberalism renders resistance ineffective and must be forsaken if de-occupation is to be achieved.

The alternative is radicalism. An examination of the differences between the liberal and radical world views will demonstrate how radicalism arms settlers seeking to demonstrate true solidarity with a better analysis for forming an effective de-occupation strategy. This is not to say that a mixture of tactics cannot be effective. The Hawaiian de-occupation movement should not remove any tool from the table, but the longer Hawai’i remains occupied the clearer it becomes that decisive action is needed.

***

Protest against deep space telescope on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea.

Protest against deep space telescope on the sacred summit of Mauna Kea.

 

 

Before I begin, I would like to absolve the term “radical” of the bad reputation it has received in popular circles. Too many people confuse the word “radical” with the word “extreme.” But, as the great African-American activist Angela Davis has explained and as every major dictionary will tell you, the word radical simply means “getting to the root” and is most properly applied to political analyses that seek the origins of oppression.

The brilliant writer and activist Lierre Keith has pointed out two fundamental differences between liberals and radicals. The first difference revolves around individualism. Liberals believe that the basic social unit is the individual, while radicals believe the basic social unit is group or class. This reliance on individualism allows liberals to claim that every individual is entitled to their personal identity free from the realities accompanying social class. In fact, for many liberals, it is an insult to be identified with a certain group regardless of political reality.

For radicals, on the other hand, each individual is socially constructed by political reality. Radicals embrace their social group recognizing it as a source of strength. The first step to affecting change is making common cause with those who share your condition.

The other big difference between liberals and radicals is a disagreement on the nature of social reality. Liberals subscribe to a certain idealism while radicals root their analysis in materialism. For liberals, thoughts, mental states, and attitudes are the only sources and, therefore, solutions for oppression. Liberals locate reality in the human mind and tend to think that education is always the key to social change. For liberals, evil is a misunderstanding and if oppressors can just be shown the error of their ways, they will change.

How does this play out in Hawai’i? Take the role of white supremacism in the domination of Hawai’i, for example. Liberals, long ago, succumbed to the lie that racism and white supremacism are merely emotional states held in the hearts of individuals. They confine the definition of racism to hatred based on the color of one’s skin and confine the definition of white supremacism to hatred for everyone who is not white.

It is astronomers relying on a liberal definition of racism who can claim they are not racist because they hold no hatred in their hearts for the Hawaiian people while still insisting on destroying Mauna Kea’s summit to build telescopes. It is mining executives relying on a liberal definition of white supremacism who can claim no hatred in their hearts for native peoples while insisting that the guts be ripped from native land and poisons pumped into native waters to provide iron ore for the telescopes that destroy native peoples’ sacred sites.

Radicals see tangible systems of power maintained through force and working in the real, physical world as the sources and solutions of oppression. Education is an important first step to building radical consciousness, but they see organized political resistance and force as the means by which real change is achieved. Evil is not a misunderstanding. It is intentional and gives material benefits to oppressors. Oppression is always linked to resource extraction.

An emotional state – like hatred – might contribute to white supremacism, but radicals are less concerned with changing the hearts and minds of those murdering people of color and murdering the world, and more concerned with stopping the destruction. Hawaiian radicals, like Haunani-Kay Trask, for example, see racism as, “A historically created system of power in which one racial/ethnic group dominates another racial/ethnic group for the benefit of the dominating group.” White supremacism is the latest version of this system of power with white people dominating everyone else.

Racism and white supremacism establish, “Economic and cultural domination as well as political power…in the systemic dominance of the exploiting group.” Finally, radicals recognize, as Trask pointed out, that the dominating group holds a monopoly on the means on violence. It is this violence that must be confronted and dismantled if racism and white supremacism are ever truly going to be undermined.

To take this even further, consider what would happen if the liberal analysis was carried out to it’s logical conclusion. Imagine that liberals were actually successful at convincing those in power to treat every one in the world with love and kindness. Without a corresponding change in material reality, there would still be a huge problem. The dominant culture is built on the exploitation of natural resources. Resources are becoming scarcer and scarcer. Humans need to eat, for example, but topsoil is so depleted that major crops are all supported by oil. What will happen, despite the liberal conversion to loving kindness, when the dominant culture needs oil and indigenous peoples and others refuse to give up their lands to give them that oil?

***

A primary strength of the radical analysis is its ability to articulate the role power plays in oppression. Gene Sharp, the world’s foremost authority on civil disobedience and direct action tactics, has identified two manifestations of power – social and political. Social power, for Sharp, is “the totality of all influences and pressures which can be used and applied to groups of people, either to attempt to control the behavior of others directly or indirectly.” Political power is “the total authority, influence, pressure, and coercion which may be applied to achieve or prevent the implementation of the wishes of the power-holder.”

The powerful do everything they can to convince the oppressed that the current arrangement of power is inevitable. To believe power is inevitable is a mistake. Sharp says, “Power, in reality, is fragile, always dependent for its strength and existence upon a replenishment of its sources by the cooperation of a multitude of institutions and people – cooperation which may or may not continue.” The key to Hawaiian de-occupation, then, is dismantling American power. Power is dismantled most effectively by cutting it off at its sources.

Sharp lists six sources of power: authority, human resources, skills and knowledge, intangible factors, material resources, and sanctions. Jacques Maritain defines authority as “the right to command and direct, to be heard or obeyed by others” and Sharp notes that it is enough that those in power be perceived and accepted as superior. Human resources are simply defined as the number of people who obey those in power and will do their bidding. Those in power derive power from the skills, knowledge, and abilities of those who will do their bidding. Closely tied to skills and knowledge, intangible psychological and ideological factors like cultural history and spirituality can be leveraged by those in power to dominate others. Those in power need material resources like property, money, and sources of energy to maintain their power. Finally, those in power must have means to enforce obedience – punishment, in other words, for those who dissent.

The goal of any resistance movement aspiring to true success must engage in shrewd target selection to undermine these sources of power. Taking Sharp a step further, it is possible to prioritize which sources of power are more essential to the functioning of power than others. The most important sources of power are the material resources power depends upon and the brutality of the sanctions they can enact through their commitment to the exploitation of resources. All the other sources of power ultimately depend on the ability of those in power to enforce their power physically. This is a radical conclusion and can be easily demonstrated.

Consider the Overthrow. Did Queen Liliuokalani abdicate the throne because she believed in American authority or the inherent right of Americans to command Hawaiians? Did the Americans command more people to do their bidding in Hawai’i than the Queen? Was Queen Liliuokalani victim to some psychological failing that the Americans exploited?

The answer is obviously no. At the time, Kingdom of Hawai’i supporters outnumbered the Americans over 13 to 1 on the Islands and constituted 4/5 of the legally qualified voters in Hawai’i. Queen Liliuokalani abdicated the throne in order to avoid bloodshed and, according to her June 17, 1897 letter to President William McKinley, because she, “recognized the futility of a conflict with so formidable a power.”

Queen Liliuokalani abdicated the throne because there were 200 United States marines, holding rifles, standing outside her door. Again, it wasn’t the moral superiority of Americans that convinced the Queen. It was, quite clearly, the threat of violence. It is important to understand the physical processes that allowed the Americans to exert that kind of power in Hawai’i. Another way to understand this is to ask, How did a nation existing thousands of miles away on another continent succeed in pointing 200 rifles at Queen Liliuokalani? The answer is, superior material resources.

In order to occupy Hawai’i, Europeans had to get there first. The only way Europeans ever got to Hawai’i and then transported themselves in numbers great enough to gain power was through the use of large naval ships. In order to build these ships, those in power needed wood and lots of it. The U.S.S. Boston that provided the marines and firepower for the Overthrow was in fact one of the American navy’s first steel warships. In order to produce the steel needed to armor the U.S.S. Boston, iron ore must be harvested. To turn iron ore into steel, vast quantities of coal are needed. To mine sufficient quantities of coal, vast tracts of land housing this coal have to be ripped up. To gain access to these vast tracts of land to be ripped up, the indigenous peoples of that land have to be removed or destroyed.

It is true that the other sources of power support the exploitation of the natural world as we can see in the manufacturing of American naval ships. Coal mining, for example, requires human resources. Most humans will not voluntarily mine coal, so those in power have to employ a mixture of authority, psychological coercion, and pure violence to access the coal they need to exert more power. But, the whole system of violence requires material resources. No one is killed by authority alone. Mountain tops are not ripped off by simple knowledge. Belief systems, by themselves, do not colonize indigenous lands. Material action in the physical world produces power. Bullets, swords, or atomic bombs at various stages of human history kill people. Oil-powered excavators and dynamite blow the tops off mountains. Soldiers delivering blankets infected with small pox clear indigenous peoples off their land.

The good news is that the more destructive those in power become, the more complex their system of murder gets, the more opportunities they expose for dismantling their power. Each step in the manufacturing of the U.S.S Boston, for example, presents an opportunity for resisters to stop the replenishment of power at one of its sources. The method is simple. Restrict those in power access to the resources they require and their power weakens. Cut them completely off, and empire comes crashing down.

The physical processes that produce warships and put rifles and cannons in the hands of American troops in Hawai’i follow a similar pattern. These processes are ultimately what make civilization unsustainable. These processes demonstrate precisely how the civilized have come to dominate the world at the expense of the uncivilized and life on this planet. Again, this present state of the world is not inevitable. It is the result of power built through the exploitation of life on the planet. The problem for life right now is the American empire shows no signs of slowing. The bigger their weapons become the faster life is pushed to the brink of total extinction.

Radicalism, then – because it springs from material reality – gives the Hawaiian de-occupation movement an ecological imperative. European contact has resulted in half of Hawai’i’s endemic species being lost to extinction. How many more species must be lost before actions that truly reflect the seriousness of the situation are taken? The American empire is built on the use of fossil fuels and the American military is the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world. Burning fossil fuels must be stopped to avoid climate catastrophe. The American military presence is, perhaps, the most serious physical obstacle confronting the de-occupation movement. Blocking the military’s access to imported fossil fuels, then, could deal a decisive blow both to American power on the Islands and American environmental destruction.

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This is the reality of the challenge confronting the Hawaiian de-occupation movement:The United States will never voluntarily leave Hawai’i and the survival of life on the Islands demands de-occupation. Too many settler liberals would have everyone believe that if Hawaiians just ask nicely enough, or cleverly enough, or with irrefutable American logic, the Americans will leave. Too many settler liberals hold up the American political and international legal systems as the only means for de-occupation. Too many settler liberals can be relied upon for sign-holding events, parades, and social media campaigns to achieve de-occupation, but when it comes down to being accomplices to Hawai’ian liberation, we are failing.

Appealing to the American political system hasn’t worked in 122 years. Appealing to the international legal system misunderstands the material reality of power. These liberal tactics can be employed to erode American authority, to persuade humans not to support American power, but there are more decisive routes to undermining American power. It’s not that liberal tactics do not have their place. But, by themselves, they do not undermine power in any serious way.

Time is short in Hawai’i. Settlers wishing to demonstrate true solidarity need to embrace a radical analysis. It is time to get to work seriously dismantling the sources of American power.

Will Falk has been working and living with protesters on Mauna Kea who are attempting to block construction of an 18-story astronomical observatory with an Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).