Bron Taylor on the shooting last week of activist-cum-vigilante James Lee at the Discovery Channel’s headquarters in Silver Springs, MD:
Claiming to be wrapped in explosives and armed with a handgun, Lee had taken hostages in his final stand against what he charged was Discovery Communication’s failure to rally humanity to save the planet. Since early 2008, if not before, he sought to force Discovery to teach people that human civilization, with its inexorable impulse to increase human numbers and economic growth, was leading directly to the extermination of the planet’s diverse life forms. Lee demanded, as well, that Discovery promote the radical solutions that he thought were necessary to halt the destruction.
We may never know whether personal troubles, isolation, or mental illness, contributed to his fatal strategy; it is too early to speculate. His writings do, however, illuminate the perceptions that were the primary drivers to his fatal, final choices. Foremost among these were the novels of Daniel Quinn. [. . .]
Together, [Quinn's] novels traced the beginning of an intensifying, global devastation of nature to the domestication of plants and animals in the Middle East some 10,000 years ago. From there, according to Quinn, “totalitarian agricultures” arose and spread, destroying biologically diverse ecosystems and animistic foraging cultures everywhere they went.
This tragic story has strong religious dimensions, according to Quinn. The religions that buttressed these imperial agricultures all promised a divine rescue from this world. For Quinn, this was the case whether the agricultures were Abrahamic (the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions originating in the West) or Vedic (the Buddhist, Hindu, and Confucian traditions originating in Asia). The common original sin of all agricultures, according to Quinn, was that they destroy indigenous cultures, with their animistic religions.
Further along, Taylor continues:
Something in Quinn’s teachings moved and made sense to Lee. On the one hand, he felt empathy toward non-human organisms and wished for them to survive and flourish. On the other hand, he became angry at members of his own species, viewing them as destructive, desecrating agents. At some point, Lee concluded that human beings did not deserve the compassion he held for other living beings. This was ironic, of course, since in finding empathy for other species, he apparently lost empathy for his own kind. It was equally ironic that his empathy for non-human beings led him to lose his own life.
Many will dismiss Lee with metaphors of the asylum. He must have been crazy; a nut case.
But it was anthropologists, historians, and environmental studies scholars from wildly diverse specialties, not Daniel Quinn, who first told the story of our last 10,000 years on earth. They produced strong evidence that, as human beings domesticated plant and animal species and replaced foraging lifeways with agricultures, biological and cultural simplification followed. Meanwhile, some of the world’s most astute religion scholars noted that, at least until recently, the world’s predominant religious traditions have been, to put it charitably, indifferent if not directly complicit in the erosion of the earth’s biological and cultural diversity.
Read the entire piece at The Huffington Post.