What’s Up With Derrick Jensen?

Anarchist John Zerzan weighs in on environmental speaker controversy

Derrick Jensen was recently dis-invited as a speaker at an event affiliated with this year’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene. He got the boot when his transphobia was discovered. He now plans to speak March 4 at the Eugene Public Library.

Sadly, the library, despite the voices of many, is not dis-inviting him, hiding behind the legalism that his talk is a rented space event and not a library-sponsored event.

I’ve gotten a query or two asking what’s this guy’s story — some background, please.

OK, here’s my take on Jensen.

In the late ’90s, a group of us anarchists invited him to speak in Eugene. There were a few talks by him, a writer pretty much no one had heard of yet. His first two books, A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe impressed us a lot. I still recommend them. We certainly considered him a friend and an ally.

The anarchist upsurge in Eugene died out in the early 2000s, as did so much else. The “anti-globalization” wave — evidenced in Seattle, Quebec City, Prague and continuing to Genoa 2001 — faded, and the change of the political climate following the 9/11 attacks really closed it down.

At this point we were no longer much in touch with Jensen, but were confounded by an incident in 2008, when we published a review of his anti-zoo book in Green Anarchy magazine. The review was very mildly critical; in fact, it was more gushing with praise than anything else. Afterwards he furiously denounced Green Anarchy and ended our friendship. This was bewildering, and remains so to this day.

My guess is that he needed a pretext to sever ties with anarchists. Known by us as an important anti-civilization thinker — like us — he was already sliding away from that outlook, qualifying his opposition to civilization.

At the same time, he spoke around the country at events usually organized by young anarchists, often on campuses. But he was becoming known as someone who could be aggressively unpleasant if he felt he wasn’t getting paid enough. Jensen was likely aware of the grumbling about this among his erstwhile strong admirers. My impression is that he was moving toward liberals for help. More funding there than from anarchists!

This trend became blazingly obvious in 2012 with “The Cancer in Occupy” by liberal columnist Chris Hedges. With strong quotes from Jensen, this piece is a vicious attack on anarchists. It’s extremely venomous, supported by Jensen in no uncertain terms.

By this point he was actively in sync with the professional transgender-hater Lierre Keith. Her bottom-line idea is that the whole phenomenon boils down to males transitioning to female so that they can get into women’s toilets and abuse them. Yes, it is that ridiculous. They would go through so much and then have to endure so much more in society, in order to get into women’s bathrooms! Keith and Jensen even go so far as to try to cloak this crap as feminist.

The descent of Derrick Jensen saddens me. His connection with Lierre Keith is a stand out and shocking part of his decline.

John Zerzan is a local anarchist and primitivist philosopher and author. 

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