Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A Language Older Than Words - Derrick Jensen

A truly excellent book, which I'd recommend to everyone. Jensen describes many of the failings of civilisation and the modern world - both generally in the world at large and specifically in terms of his own life experiences. These all show how modern civilisation is systematically failing, but that there is also another way to live that has been known about since man first came into existence - the 'Language Older Than Words'.

Although the faults of civilisation are many, Jensen has broken them down into bite size chapters. Each chapter is almost self contained, introducing a new topic and exploring it in a variety of ways. Jensen moves between personal experiences (such as the abuse he suffered as a child), and the history and current state of modern civilisation and its many atrocities against the natural world and mankind itself. I felt this worked well, so that the book was not one long list of failings, nor a constant tirade, but more like a conversation that jumps between different topics and different points of view (personal and global).

Through it all Jensen believes that there is another way to exist, which does not have to be so destructive. But any remaining examples of this other way are being hounded out of existence by civilisation, with its relentless expansionism and consumption and closed mind ("our way or no way").

Jensen does not have the answers, and does not claim to. He does not try to tell us what we should do. In this book he only wants us to wake up and see all that is wrong around us, and how it cannot possibly work or make sense. Although the lack of answers is an omission, it does not weaken the book. Rather, the opposite - it strengthens it. He is not distracted by having to provide answers, nor having to explain and justify why one answer is better than another.

In this book he wants us all to understand why civilisation is wrong, and what is wrong with it, and that it should not be this way. If we all agreed on this, then we might be able to work out something better for ourselves.

My abiding memory of reading this book will simply be that I agreed with all that he wrote in it. Civilisation is a mistake - a big one and a very destructive one, that is going nowhere fast, and destroying the quality of life for every living thing on this planet.