The term Anthropocene not only doesn’t help us stop this culture from killing the planet – it contributes directly to the problems it purports to address.
First, it’s grossly misleading. Humans aren’t the ones “transforming” – read, killing – the planet. Civilized humans are. There’s a difference. It’s the difference between old growth forests and New York City, the difference between 60 million bison on a vast plain and pesticide- and herbicide-laden fields of genetically modified corn. It’s the difference between rivers full of salmon and rivers killed by hydroelectric dams. It’s the difference between cultures whose members recognize themselves as one among many and members of this culture, who convert everything to their own use.
To be clear, the Tolowa Indians lived where I now live for at least 12,500 years, and when the first of the civilized arrived the place was a paradise. Now, 170 years later, the salmon are being driven extinct, redwoods have been reduced to 2 percent of their range, and the fields (formerly forests) are full of toxins.
To be even more clear: Humans don’t destroy landbases. Civilized humans destroy landbases, and they have been doing so since the beginning of civilization. One of the first written myths is of Gilgamesh deforesting what is now Iraq – cutting down cedar forests so thick the sunlight never touched the ground, all so he could make a great city and, more to the point, so he could make a great name for himself.
All of this is crucial, because perpetrators of atrocity so often attempt to convince themselves and everyone else that what they’re doing is natural or right. The word “Anthropocene” attempts to naturalize the murder of the planet by pretending the problem is “man,” and not a specific type of man connected to this particular culture.
The name also manifests the supreme narcissism that has characterized this culture from the beginning. Of course members of this culture would present their behavior as representing “man” as a whole. The other cultures have never really existed anyway, except as lesser breeds who are simply in the way of getting access to resources.
Using the term Anthropocene feeds into that narcissism. Gilgamesh destroyed a forest and made a name for himself. This culture destroys a planet and names a geologic age after itself. What a surprise.
They say one sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize patterns. Well, members of this culture must not be very smart. We’ve had 6,000 years to recognize the pattern of genocide and ecocide fueled by this culture’s narcissism and sociopathy, and the behavior is simply getting worse. Members of this culture have had 6,000 years to recognize that the cultures they’re conquering have often been sustainable. And still they come up with this name that attempts to include all humanity in their own despicable behavior.
The narcissism extends beyond disbelieving that other cultures exist. It includes believing that nothing else on the planet fully exists, either. It’s like the bumper sticker says: “We’re not the only species on Earth: We just act like it.” I recently heard an astronomer trying to explain why it’s important to explore Mars. The exploration will, he said, “answer that most important question of all: Are we all alone?” On a planet brimming with beautiful life (for now), he asks this question? I have a more important question. Is he insane? The answer is yes. He’s a narcissist, and a sociopath.
Of course members of this culture, who have named themselves with no shred of irony or humility Homo sapiens, would, as they murder the planet, declare this the age of man.
The Anthropocene gives no hint of the horrors this culture is inflicting. “The Age of Man”? Oh, that’s nice. We’re number one, right? Instead, the name must be horrific, it must produce shock and shame and outrage commensurate with this atrocity of killing the planet. It must call us to differentiate ourselves from this culture, to show that this label and this behavior do not belong to us. It must call us to show that we do not deserve it. It must call us to say and mean, “Not one more Indigenous culture driven from its land, and not one more species driven extinct!”
If we’re going to name this age, let’s at least be honest and accurate. Can I suggest, “The Age of the Sociopath”?
Derrick Jensen is the author of more than 20 books, including Deep Green Resistance.
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