Open mouth, insert soap

F-bombs for the environment?

Derrick Jensen has plenty of interesting things to say about environmental degradation. Too bad he’s so fond of the biggest, baddest expletive.

Derrick Jensen has plenty of interesting things to say about environmental degradation. Too bad he’s so fond of the biggest, baddest expletive.

Photo By christine G.K. lapado

Derrick Jensen likes the word “fuck.”

A widely known Northern California environmentalist and author of the provocative 2006 book-in-two-volumes Endgame, as well as the earlier, critically acclaimed A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make-Believe—Jensen was a Saturday (Nov. 7) afternoon keynote speaker at Chico State’s recent This Way to Sustainability V conference.

He was there in the BMU Auditorium to deliver a two-hour lecture reiterating and elaborating upon the 20 premises of Endgame, starting with Premise One: “Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.”

Jensen wasn’t there to impress upon his audience how much he likes the F-word, but unfortunately that’s what some people may have taken away from his talk.

From using the word “motherfucker” in a opening comment about the intentions of God, to telling a joke about how many environmentalists it takes to change a light bulb (that included a reference to “the fuckin’ light bulb”), to his assertive announcement about an hour into his talk that, “I think the word ‘fuck’ is the most amazing word in the English language,” Jensen used language—in a lecture open to the public, of all ages—that caused some people to get up and leave.

It’s unfortunate, because Jensen is a brilliant thinker with a lot to say about the “apocalyptic” state of the world and how he’d like to see things change before it’s too late.

“I want to be in a world with more wild salmon every year,” he insisted. “I want to be in a world with less dioxin in mother’s milk, and more amphibians. I don’t want to live in a world being murdered. … The industrial economy needs to be stopped.”

Jensen does not come across in person as he does in writing. Those reading his authoritative books do not see him hunched in a chair, partially obscured by a mic stand, reading lecture notes interspersed with bad jokes, references to previous bad jokes, and repeated F-bombs.

Granted, Jensen’s exuberant extolling of the F-word was his means of setting up his argument that sex and violence are conflated into that one word and, by extension, exist inseparably in the society as a whole—the set-up for his larger argument that those at the top of the power hierarchy (for example, corporations) are by definition violently exploitative.

But, though he was preaching largely to the choir—judging by the favorable responses to his salient points—Jensen’s interesting, timely message got lost at times in digressions and his seeming need to sound “radical.”

Jensen’s argument that civilization is unsustainable is mind-blowing enough to those hearing it for the first time. If he wants it to sink in, he should drop some of the strident, F-bomb posturing and just state his case.