Derrick Jensen did an effective job elevating himself to Leftist Leader in his mainstream outreach The Myth of Human Supremacy as revealed through the chorus of his followers’ Amazon reviews. Despite the loud cult, a few honest reviews and comments did break through (edited):
ByZombie Jackalon June 7, 2016
What would’ve been a beautiful book on the intricacies of nature, was ruined by a man’s dribbling insistence on plant sentience. Derrick Jensen certainly has a character about him. His fiery rhetoric and casually shifting from higher-minded lexicon to simple besmirching with a casual profanity here and there, certainly leaves you enthralled. I would call him an ecological Zizek in terms of writing.
However, as passionately as he argues — the main antithesis of the book that dismantles what Jensen calls ‘human supremacy’ seems to be his arguing for plant sentience — his passion is wrong. Watch what he does here. “We hooked up the plant….we chatted…I casually suggested burning the plant. No response. Cleve responded, “I don’t think you really want to, besides, I wouldn’t let you.” pg 71 See what he did there? Complete casual, slight of hand special pleading. ‘It only works if you really BELIEVE it.’ So called psychics worldwide likely smiled and nodded. Yes, yes, Jensen understands! The powers that be [in this case, a plant ‘sensing’ danger] only work if its genuine! Not only does it allow him to subjectively eliminate data that doesn’t fit his hypothesis [ah, it didn’t spike because I/s/he/ wasn’t REALLY threatening the plant] it also allows him to ignore critics or otherwise insist criticism and scrutiny [which, Jensen should understand any scientific paper undergoes, it’s not just a global attack on his desire for plant sentience] is simply a desire for us to maintain ‘human supremacy’.
This is no mistake either. Watch, just two pages earlier “The big problem — and this is a problem as far as consciousness research in general is concerned — is repeatability. The events I’ve observed have all been spontaneous. They have to be. If you plan them out in advance, you’ve already changed them.” pg 69. Not only is this unverifiable via typical scientific method, it is deliberate so! Lack of correlation? The emotion wasn’t spontaneous or genuine enough! Correlation? Proof of sentience! You’d think being a critic of organized religion, such as Jensen, would at least make you able to recognize special pleading and selective bias when you see it.
Here’s another one: he posits that the idea that plants can’t be sentient because they lack nerve endings, nerve ganglia, or a brain to process these doesn’t fit. He argues it’s similar to saying because [and this is his example, not mine] that I experience sexual pleasure by ejaculating, anything that is not ejaculation is not sexual pleasure. The number of problems with this analogy could fill a small essay Firstly, it proves to little: our sample size for sentience is not one organism, it is the entirety of biology Secondly, it contradicts what we know about evolution Thirdly, not to be lewd, but everyone I know can very much experience sexual pleasure in other fashions. Upper legs, buttocks, aerolas are all sensitive areas from which we can derive pleasure.
Is it entirely possible the ability to experience sentience outside a central nervous system lies outside our grasp of understanding biology? It’s possible. We’ve been proven wrong before, much to Jensen’s delight. But it is also extremely unlikely.
Jensen does manage to marvel at the beauty of nature in chapter eleven in a way that would ring with anyone that even venomously disagrees with his conclusion in his book. Another moment of incredulity, on page 188 argues the invention of agriculture and indeed, the plow, was bad because it drove other species out of their natural habitat. Not to disagree that destructive habits of agriculture can certainly get out of hand; yet, in the conclusion of his book he posits “It doesn’t matter if you are an elephant or a gnat. You eat and you will be eaten. Get over it.” So which is it, Jensen? Are our habits justified via the circle of life, or our survival techniques grotesque?
He wishes to have his cake and eat it too in the worst possible way. Loftily criticizing pretty much any and all actions humans may take, whilst unapologetically reaping the benefits. And, within his philosophy, he is able to anyway. Get over it.
However, all the same, his furious arguing for plant sentience left me puzzled until I had my euraka moment on page 82 [I am slightly paraphrasing the entry]. “The scientific philosopher Francis Bacon…spoke of putting nature on the rack and torturing her to extract her secrets…it shouldn’t surprise us that scientists argue that nonhumans do not have sentience. The last thing the master wants to consider is that slaves have lives of their own and do not want to bend to their will.” Essentially, this is the crux of his radical ecological philosophy. It’s not enough that we consider damage to nature from a perspective of self-preservation. Such a thing is just ‘human supremacy’.
Even if survival of species is something every species tries to pursue. It wouldn’t be enough for him that we torture animals by the billions. Not quite. Encouraging others to go vegan means we could actually undo our wrongs in this case. At least, to an extent. Humans have to be the ultimate bad guy for his philosophy to function. For this to work, this has to include plant sentience. Then, any and all actions where we tamper with nature, even something as innocent as cutting our lawn, becomes an act of supremacy.
Biased Perspectivein reply
I believe we can safely agree that you were, and are never, going to be swayed that plants are sentient beings. With the current evidence? No.
You do see that you are supporting Jensen’s point, don’t you? No, the exact opposite in fact. I regard this in my review. I specifically say ‘it proves too little’. Meaning the analogy in this case was a false equivalence because we *know* with our large range of sexuality that there is pleasure besides ejaculation, whereas with biology, our large range of knowledge and sample size [as I said in my review, the entirety of the beings on this planet] says only nerve endings and ganglia can cause you to ‘feel’ in a pain/pleasure sense. Our sample for what qualifies as sentient is the entirety of biology, not one lone nervous system.
Maybe some people are just afraid that if they end up accepting that plants are sentient beings, then they might come off as a hypocrite because they have used that sentient argument against so many meat eaters? This respect I don’t really regard. Even if plants *were* sentient [and you are correct that I will currently maintain they are not] raising and eating animals would cause more plants to die than a vegan diet. No matter your ethical/moral viewpoint, eating plants would still cause less suffering [unless you’re some sort of abstract nihilist, but I digress]. I wish you all the best as well too.
…I really do not think that Jensen is concerned with more plants dying for consumption purposes (but maybe he is). While he is concerned about the introduction of the plow giving birth to industrialized agriculture, Jensen seems to be most concerned with the impacts that industrialized agriculture has had on the Earth (something I sense we all agree on).
bossaboy in reply
Ah yes, because I point out the numerous fallacies with Jensens arguments [false equivalence, special pleading, false cause] that makes my argument ‘religious blindness’…
By tlw on September 14, 2016
I had high hopes for this book. I find human supremacy a fascinating topic, along with indigenous worldviews towards nature, and I agree with many of Jensen’s assertions about how our culture is impacting the environment, and the drastic changes we as a species need to do to save what is left, and the low chance of the changes every happening, to the planet’s detriment.
It helps that it got so many good reviews. But this book is terrible – so far, as I’m only 60 pages in. Maybe it will get better, who knows, in which case I’ll update this review, assuming I bother to finish it.
First, the writing is just awful… But looking beyond the terrible writing – his thesis, at least so far, is just junk. So far he uses intelligence to show why plants and animals are on equal footing with humans. That’s all well and good, except intelligence is a human concept, so in the process he’s personifying plants and animals to support his point. That, to me, is a great example of human supremacy. To really make his argument work, he needs to show how plants and animals are equals to humans on their own terms, not in human terms. He could approach it as those in the nonhuman rights movements do – just by their existence, we are equals.
I get it, he’s trying to speak in terms that non-scientist, everyday people can understand, but it’s just not working, because he keeps all organisms in human terms and within human constructs. Various books, especially those about indigenous worldviews, tread in this territory somewhat, and to much better effect than Jensen.
I did find his excerpts from articles interesting reading, which got me to thinking – this book would have been much better as an anthology of the articles and studies he talks about, with a bit of commentary after each. At least then we’d be saved from his terrible writing style!
My hope is that, at some point, he’ll talk about how to increase our own connections with nature, and show – at least philosophically – how to live on a more equal footing with those we share this planet. But I get the feeling, after thumbing ahead, that this won’t happen. So far this is just a rant with no substance.
I can’t help but think how many sentient trees he allowed to be killed to print this book. Come on Derrick, why didn’t you just release this as an e-book, instead of “murdering” a bunch of trees? In the end, I suspect, Jensen is just as much the problem as any of the rest of us.
It is truth what you say. What the writer of this book did read and use in his books is indeed fascinating. I do have to admit some of his references come from rather dodgy resources, so don’t believe every single example he uses. What he himself on the other hand says is something else. I have my doubt to about his good intentions and integrity Anyway, most possitive comments on this book are made by people who are in his activist group named DGR. Max W for example is one of them. I’m glad to read at least one review that’s honest and open to the book itself without worshipping the writer.
And then there’s
By Amazon Customer on May 20, 2016