Derrick Jensen on Tea Party victories

11/08/10 Kelly Benjamin
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The results of last week's mid-term elections have been described as a Tea Party "tidal wave" by pundits and Republican supporters. Yet, author, social critic, and environmental activist Derrick Jensen sees the rise of the movement as a predictable phenomenon that happens when capitalism comes up against it's ecological limits. WMNF's Kelly Benjamin spoke with Derrick Jensen on how scapegoating and fear came to dominate the national dialogue rather than deep analysis of the US's economic and environmental problems.

"So far as the current ascendancy of the right among some working class people, among a lot of working class people, I think that's pretty predictable too. In fact I've written about that in terms of exactly what happened in the 1920's and early 1930's and it's exactly what happened in Germany what led to the rise of Nazi Germany. It's a very, very big danger that when some groups of people have their privilege threatened they respond by turning to hatred of various out groups and that was exactly what happened in the 1920's, 1910's and 1920's with the rise of the KKK at that point.

"What I'm saying is the Tea Party is, in great measure, made up of people who are, because of ecological, in this case, because of draw down of ecological resources. I hate the word, because of the destruction of the natural world, capitalism is running up against it's natural limit and they are finding they're privilege threatened because of that. And when a group of people who have been previously privileged in one sense or another find that privilege threatened, they often times turn to scapegoating out groups.

"And so, instead of recognizing that one reason that the economy is tanking is because it has exceeded ecological limits, and we've passed peak oil, and so on, instead it's those, in their perspective, it's those damn illegal immigrants. Or it's because we've turned away from God, or it's because of, whatever, which is why, once again, why I keep stressing that we need to simply tell the truth and say that it has to do with ecological limits.

"So, I think that it's been, and the best part of it, another part of it has been, frankly, has been a very successful organizing campaign, going back to the 60's of working class people who vote against their own interests based on, so-called 'cultural ideas.' This was a conscious plan by the right wing starting, once again, in the 60's, 'how are we going to get working class people to vote against their interests'. Well, at the time a lot of them were Catholic and so the right wing chose to make a big, big, big, issue of abortion because that's how they could get the Catholic people working class members, at least, to vote against their economic interests. And, by the way I want to be really clear, I'm not suggesting that the Catholic working class people were, or are, Tea Party members. Or were, and/or are, racists. I'm simply saying that that was one tack that they chose at that time, and today the same sort of organizing, successful organizing is taking place.

"When you get people like the Koch brothers who have boatloads of money who use it to propagandize all sorts of scapegoating that will keep people from attending to the fact that the Koch brothers make their money through energy extraction."

Previous WMNF interview with Derrick Jensen on the BP Oil Spill

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Don't know "Jack"...

Derrick… I’m confused… you say that in the 60’s the right wing started to co-opt the Catholics??? Are those the same JFK (the 1st Catholic President) democrat Catholics I’ve heard so much about??? And it took 50 years to do it… with the 2 year old “TEA PARTY”… all in one fell swoop??? DUDE… even California said “NO”!!! Step away from the pipe…


Glenn, Derrick is saying that abortion was an issue that resonated with working class Catholics and could get them voting against thier interests. He is not saying it took 50 years to do it, merely that it is an example of one the strategies right wing puppet masters have used to dupe the working class. Today, it's immigration and taxes playing on people's xenophobia and fears. Yet, when it comes to Bush's tax break for the rich, which ultimatly hurts poor people, the tea party is all for it.


Dude… thanks for helping me get my head on straight. Why would anyone put their faith above their voting interests??? And those tax cuts truly did hurt poor people… especially that 15% bracket that was lowered to 10%... the 28% bracket that was lowered to 25%... the 31% bracket lowered to 28%... the 36% bracket lowered to 33%... and definitely that 39.6% bracket that was lowered to 35%. Those rich folk need to pay their fair share!!! And why would anyone in America have a second thought about 12 Million, taxpaying, healthcare receiving, illegal immigrants?? ? But dude… “xenophobia”… every conservative and liberal I’ve ever talked to about the subject… thinks that the “Warrior Princess” is totally HOT!!! And nobody had an irrational fear that babe… except maybe Callisto. Thanks for squaring me away.


Maybe I missed the point, I thought it was kind of interesting that someone could look through the framework of their own agenda and come to the conclusion that the cultural swing of the late 1960's was due to 'ecological limits'? Maybe the Roman Catholic swing began with the end of the requirement that women needed a doctor's moral approval to be prescribed birth control, and maybe it continued when women were able to take contol of their own bodies with the legalization of abortion. Mr. Jensen made some important points regarding the reaction to diminished priveleges, but the lack of historic perspective on the 1960's makes me doubt some of his other conclusions. And I could kind of say the same about the 'dude' conversation previous to this comment.


I can't believe anyone considers Derrick Jenson an authority on anything. Germany ran out of resources in the 30s which caused the rise of the Nazi party? That's silly. Do resources disappear into thin air? Why is Germany doing so well now? Have their natural resources been restored? The prosecution of certain groups of people is not the result of blaming them for deteriorating conditions. It's the result of a collapsing society and the law and order that previously held us in check. We have always disliked certain groups but can't act on our impulses because of the law. But if conditions deteriorate to the point that we can't rely on the police for protection, we can do as we like. That's why gun sales are on the rise. People fear our current circumstances may not last. And the intrusive laws that allowed ceratin people to live where they weren't wanted will no longer be valid. Hence balkanization.

Unique view of reality…

Dude… even with my unique view of reality… I can see how some would come to the conclusion that the cultural swing of the 1960's was due to reaching our 'ecological limits'. The big green oblique “e” was making its appearance everywhere. Terms like tree huggers, grass roots, and endangered species were being coined and plastics were the manufactures “god-send”. The industrialization of plastics became one of the first publicly recognized mega-polluters of land, sea, sky… and animals with the creation and use of highly carcinogenic compounds. The clothes being worn carried fire hazard warnings in them. People joked about standing to close to the grill or smoking because their fashionable plastic clothing may burst into flames. One of the biggest insults of the late 60’s was to call someone “plastic”. So yeah… head kinda tilted… I can see it. And Jenson’s theological take of the time… he took the easy way out. Ask the clergy of any mainstream religion and they will agree that “Man” was born of sin… and therefore… one’s self interest should be suspect. How hard is it to make that work for you… in any language??? It’s the basis of our current theo-political problems today. As for the decline of German resources in the 1930’s… I would venture to guess that the “Treaty of Versailles”… with its redistribution of both Germans and German resources (Balkanization), and the severe restrictions on how those remaining resources could be used… would come closer to the actual reality. However, I do believe that the Arian religion of the National Socialists would have found the “Warrior Princess” totally HOT also.


Add 10 years and you might be closer to the truth regarding ecological issues, but the reference to plastic people is coincidental. Nixon's silent majority was a theme of the 70's and that concept of considering himself a moral paragon representing a middle America is closer to the Tea Party message. Corporate America didn't engage the voting public directly until the early 80's when the Kock brothers and others decided to start funding the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation.