The most basic commandment of our culture:
Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.
Indigenous cultures, uncivilized societies that did not build cities and lived as hunters and gatherers or small scale subsistence farmers, were land-based cultures. Their livelihoods were based on the land and the ecosystems.
Our culture –in the broadest sense civilization, in the narrower sense western, more recently industrial civilization– is based on faith. In terms of livelihoods, our culture is no longer based solely on the exploitation of its land base, but on the hyper-exploitation of almost all parts of the world, including the oceans.
The people of our culture do not live in the real physical world. With their cities they have built their own world, and with their beliefs their own artificial reality. They have sealed themselves off from the real world and the truth. Our culture is characterized by an increasingly complex technology. People are proud of it, identify with it and trust technology with an almost unshakable faith. Last but not least, they regard technology as synonymous with progress. Cultures without complex technology have for our culture about as much value as ecosystems. They are exploited, assimilated, “developed”, and ultimately destroyed.
Our culture is based on faith, because only with strong belief systems, coupled with the corresponding propaganda machinery, can a potentially volatile mass like our modern society with its unprecedented number of people be managed, controlled and kept reasonably stable. Mass propaganda has always been of great importance for civilization. From the invention of writing to book printing, newspapers, mail, telegraphy, telephone, fax, radio, television and the Internet; mobile phones and smartphones; to social media, that gives us the illusion of contact with other people, while in reality we are sitting lonely in front of the screen of a machine. Technology is never neutral. Our form of technology is not so much a sign of a particularly advanced culture but a necessary instrument with which those in power keep us under control. The current IT technology with its screen culture and digital hallucinations is the most effective opium for the masses ever invented, and at the same time the most perfect mass surveillance apparatus ever invented.
We have no culture and we have no society.
Although I use these terms for lack of alternatives, our form of society is actually a kind of anti-culture, that destroys any form of original culture and community. A culture would be a set of social rules, values and norms, aimed at organizing a stable and sustainable society. Essentially, culture regulates the relationship between human and non-human beings, i.e. the interaction with the land base, as well as the relationships between humans themselves.
The current form of liberalism, capitalism, consumerism, individualism, techno cult and popculture neither knows rules for a meaningful interaction with the land base, nor for the people between themselves. The only rule is the often unspoken, but very strong hierarchy with money as a synonym for power. Money has no value in itself. Yet for most people, money is like a religious fetish for which they do almost everything.
The beliefs of our culture have direct and profound effects on the real world, and my own life. Why do you pay rent? I pay rent because I know that if I didn’t, ultimately the police would force me out of my apartment and I‘d be homeless. So I pay rent because I have to bow to structural violence. That the landlord owns my apartment and I have to pay for the right to live here is not based on any natural or physical laws, but is a purely social convention. It only works because the majority of the population believes in the right of the owners to exploit those who don’t own. In fact I have to work for my landlord, for the only purpose of making him even richer than he already is.
Many of the beliefs on which our culture is based are not particularly credible in themselves and have a quasi-religious character, so the people of our culture must be indoctrinated from an early age. Without permanent indoctrination, our “culture” would immediately fall apart. That is why those in power were so afraid of the 60’s hippie culture and drugs like cannabis and LSD: because they are able, in a sense, to resolve social conditioning. But obviously that wasn’t enough.
Our economic system is based on the belief in infinite growth on a finite planet. We act on the belief that we can make infinite use of finite fossil fuels. We believe that our transport system is more important than our breathing air, and we act as if a transport system based on fossil fuels and poisoning our air will last forever. We believe in infinite technological progress, and consistently ignore the dramatic effects this belief has on the real world. We believe that we can destroy not only the climate and the oceans, but practically the whole planet and still live on it. We actually know better; yet we –or rather those in power– act according to this faith. And we have been so polite to believe that those in power have the right to diligently destroy our future and the future of our children in order to increase their wealth.
Almost all the beliefs our “culture” is based on are bare lies and not even particularly credible. Out of these lies, the credulous people of our “culture” assemble their small, cozy, intact worlds, which they vehemently defend against the truth. Those who have a glimpse of the fact that not everything is all right will build even more defenses, choosing between New Age esoteric, the myth of the hundredth monkey, the hope of a collective paradigm shift, the belief in digital man as the consciousness of the universe, the golden age etc., in order not to have to see the truth. Here too, the more absurd the faith, the more fervently it is believed and defended against all evidence.
It is no exaggeration to state that this culture is pathologically insane. Our self-perception as “culture” is the self-perception of a madman. We believe that we are the most developed culture that ever existed and the cultures before us were primitive and regressive. Therefore, we also believe that it is justified to brutally eradicate “primitive” indigenous cultures all over the world. Progress has its price and you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. Racism, that is the belief that a “race” of people (usually those with the lighter skin) are better, smarter, more progressive, stronger, higher developed than others – along with a distorted version of Darwin’s theory of evolution, the idea of the survival of the fittest, that applied to human societies forms the ideology of social Darwinism – has created a justification that has already proven itself in numerous genocides. Racism naturally refers to beings of other species (we do not use the term here, although it would be much more appropriate, since they actually are different races). My point is that indigenous peoples, just like wolves, bison, salmon, bears, lynxes, whales, gorillas and many other creatures, have been and continue to be victims of the Holocaust. And all this is based on the belief that we, as the crown of creation, have the right to eradicate all others and thus deny them the right to live.
“In order for us to maintain our way of living, we must, in a broad sense, tell lies to each other, and especially to ourselves. It is not necessary that the lies be particularly believable. The lies act as barriers to truth. These barriers to truth are necessary because without them many deplorable acts would become impossibilities. Truth must at all costs be avoided. When we do allow self-evident truths to percolate past our defenses and into our consciousness, they are treated like so many hand grenades rolling across the dance floor of an improbably macabre party. We try to stay out of harm’s way, afraid they will go off, shatter our delusions, and leave us exposed to what we have done to the world and ourselves, exposed as the hollow people we have become. And so we avoid these truths, these self-evident truths, and continue the dance of world destruction.”
Derrick Jensen1A Language older than Words, p.2
It is actually not difficult to see that our culture is based on violence and destroys all life on this planet. All we have to do is to take off the numerous cultural eyeglasses that guide our perception. Then we will lose faith in all these lies and realize the truth. This automatically puts us outside our “culture” and we cannot go back, because we have recognized it and all the lies for what they really are. Only from the outside do we see our civilization as the terrible monster that consumes and destroys all living things. What remains is solely the faith in Mother Earth and the land base you live on. And that makes sense, because behind all of these collective hallucinations, it is still Mother Earth who keeps us alive. Nature has produced an incredible variety of creatures and will continue to do so if we only let her. So it is the moral duty of every person who no longer identifies with this culture but with the real world, to defend life on the planet against the monster that is civilization.