A few years ago environmental activist Derrick Jensen gave a talk in which he imagined how Star Wars might have turned out if it had been written, not by George Lucas, but by a bunch of environmentalists. He called it “Star Non-Violent Civil Disobedience” and described how various pacifist factions would fight over the best way to stop Darth Vader from blowing up the Earth. In doing so, they would never reach a consensus or form a unified resistance movement, which would allow Darth Vader to succeed. But the environmentalists would rejoice because there would be a three-sentence clip in the back pages of The New Empire Times about their efforts.
The folks at endciv.com—who brought Jensen’s story to life in the above video—say, “The ‘Star Wars’ piece is one of Derrick’s best analogies, one that delivers a precise critique of mainstream environmental groups.”
I certainly see a lot of truth (and humor) in his criticisms, particularly in regards to lack of organization and disagreement on strategy. But, from what I know of Jensen, he wouldn’t think much of the environmental movement if it were unified and enacting a truly strategic nonviolent campaign.
If I understand his philosophy correctly, Jensen doesn’t think people can be persuaded to do the right thing—hence his criticism of nonviolence. He favors acts of sabotage, e.g. taking out phone lines and blowing up dams, because he believes they would have more immediate and forceful results.
I can’t say that I agree with that logic. I’m not aware of any major acts of property destruction that had the effect of reversing a particular injustice. And even if there are some examples, I’m not sure they don’t measure up to the successes nonviolence has attained over the past hundred years.
But rather than dive further into that debate, I think it’s better to take what good lessons we can from Jensen’s critique of nonviolence, as he certainly makes some legitimate points.