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15 March 2002

War against Terra

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There is an unrecognized logic to America's "War against Terror". A problem of pronunciation signals a problem of comprehension. This was recently drawn to my attention by the title of the UN Environment Programmes's INFOTERRA information system. In most English and American dialects there is no distinction in the pronunciation between "Terror" and "Terra". The unconscious implications of this are explored below.

Dominating nature

"The industrial model is constructed on the presumption that nature functions like a machine and that humanity's role is to force nature's gears. It uses the metaphor of the Model T Ford Factory that makes mass produced commodities. Competition is the primary economic and scientific process in the industrial model: species compete in an ecology and nations compete through their corporations in the global market. For many, it is difficult to see how we might clothe, feed and shelter ourselves without dominating nature. And for farmers and others who produce our food, it does seem as if the only way to feed the world is to conquer and subdue nature for the benefit of an increasing population of humans - to mass-produce a homogeneous commodity. This kind of production ethic is in fact an ethic: it is a definition of what is good....By some measurements, the industrial model has had incredible successes. It has provided an array of technologies and large financial returns for medicine, agriculture, and information. But it has also caused unexpected and widespread damage to the environmental and public health. We are all aware of the litany of environmental problems that include radioactive waste, holes in the ozone layer, endocrine disruption and global warming. " (Carolyn Raffensperger and Peter deFur, A Paradigm Shift: Rethinking Environmental Decision Making and Risk Assessment, 1997)

Many have remarked on the consistency of American actions against the environment over the past decades -- disproportionate use of non-renewable resources, denial of global warming, and culminating in refusal to be associated with the Kyoto process. As has been clearly said by George Bush, "the American Way of Life is non-negotiable".

This attitude might be said to derive largely from the historically recent pioneering tradition so important to American culture. The continent had to be conquered. Nature from the early days was a harsh enemy. A place for colonists had to be carved out. Any opposition by "unreasonable", especially "uncivilized", indigenous peoples had to be dealt with by conquest and their restriction to reservations. Dangerous wild animals (bears, wolves, etc) had to be killed off. Others had to be exploited (bison, etc). The challenge was to tame and domesticate the continent. Any opposition to this process was inherently inimical.

The American culture is built on a war against Nature that it has only recently been able to assume has been won -- although floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and winter freezing, suggest that this is not yet wholly the case.

War against Terra

In these terms it is understandable that the USA must continue to see it as necessary to wage war against Nature on a larger scale to ensure a continuing supply of resources for its non-negotiable lifestyle. This "War against Terra" is a logical extension of its traditional approach to conquering and subduing Nature in order better to exploit its resources. The threat to vital supplies of oil and other natural resources are but a natural extension of this mindset.

The acquisition of these resources by the USA has been increasingly questioned, resisted or opposed by various movements and schools of thought. In recent years these have taken the form of pro-environmentalists and "anti-globalists" who have demonstrated dramatically against the traditional exploit-nature logic now carried so effectively by the strategies of multinational corporations. The most recent demonstrations (Seattle, Genoa, etc) have forced major shifts in mainstream thinking about what were previously perceived as marginal political nuisances. In effect the exploitative globalization movement, built on exploit-nature logic, lost the "propaganda war". This was both unforeseen and intolerable.

War against Terror

The ongoing challenge of the Middle East offered recent examples of "terrorism" which could be readily neglected -- being so far from the American continent. However the attacks of 11th September 2001 showed with crystal clarity that there was dangerous worldwide opposition to the global implications of an unfettered American Way of Life. Within a few days it became essential -- as with the traditional challenge of wild beasts and savages emerging dangerously from the surrounding wilderness -- to shift into a Them-or-Us logic to safeguard the threatened modern-day colonists of the economic globe on which Americans were seemingly dependent for their survivial.

In these terms there was no operational difference between threats by savages and wild beasts in the recent past and current threats by "terrorists". In fact the second evoked the heroism extolled in American culture in responding to the first. As such it has provided an integrating focus for a culture suffering from the cultural ills of modernity (boredom, apathy, meaninglessness, depression, etc). These had given rise to substance abuse and crime -- already justifying a "war against drugs" and a "war against crime". It is ironic that modern jargon expresses high value for positive experiences by describing them as "terrific" -- whilst at the same time investing heavily in media and other experiences offering the excitement of "terror". Analysts may in future determine that American culture is permeated by an ambiguous relation to real and imagined terrors that has been momentarily crystallized, sharpened and polarized by the current crisis.

Clearly there was a strong case for focusing the attention of the American people in a "War against Terror" that required the kinds of sacrifice associated in the American culture with forming the wagon train into a protective circle from which to defend the colonists against the savage outside world.


Under conditions of threat, there is little room for distinction. It is indeed very much a case of Them-or-Us. Demonstrators opposing in any way the pioneering activity of multinational corporations essential to the security of the American economy could not usefully be distinguished from the dangers to that economy posed by terrorists. And of course there were those anxious to exploit the opportunity to frame any opposition to corporate economic logic as inherently identical to the dangerous opposition by terrorists -- again Them-or-Us. Having lost the intellectual case for corporate-style "globalization", this negative reframing was the only strategy left.

It is therefore understandable why anti-globalists, pro-environmentalists and anti-war protestors have in effect been lumped together with "terrorists" in legislation rushed through in violation of due democratic process. The point has been made that even anti-apartheid demonstrations could well have been quashed under "terrorist" legislation. This could well have been true of the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Using a "binary" logic, all forms of protest and dissent must necessarily be framed as a threat to a civilization governed by that logic.

Given the consistency with which America has engaged in an implicit "War against Terra" in its anti-environmental activities over the past years, there is therefore an inherent logic to blending it into a "War against Terror". Given the "terrifying" qualities of Nature which the American culture encountered and overcame -- and by which it was largely formed -- it is only too logical to perceive these terrors as re-emergent through terrorism. Hence the unconscious conflation of Terra with Terror. Essentially it is a "War against Otherness" -- with all the associated psychological dangers.


Nature is built on diversity. Modern civilization has great difficulty in dealing with diversity in practice -- however much it is appreciated in principle. The limitations of the mind require things to be simple. Therefore "Nature" has to be "simplified" for civilization to be possible. Terra is constituted by a diversity of species -- some of them highly dangerous to each other and to humans -- as humans are to some of them. Those species dangerous to humans have to be eliminated or contained for "civilization" to be possible. Humans organize their threat to other species through their domestication of species on which humans can feed. Wild stallions have to be shot because they encourage herds to act independently and because they disseminate disruptive genes.

Similarly, Terror is about the threat of any chaotic diversity of perspectives -- some of them highly dangerous to each other. Therefore such diversity has to be "simplified" for "civilization" to be possible. Those perspectives dangerous to the western -- especially American -- understanding of civilization have to be eliminated or contained. Other perspectives have to be "domesticated" for appreciation by tourists and media audiences -- as exemplified by the National Geographic. Thre is a need for credibly neutered news (perhaps exemplified by CNN). Intellectual "stallions" have also to be shot because of their tendency to create unrest, to lead people in unwelcome directions, and to disseminate their disruptive memes.

Curiously the nature of Terra as a complex ecosystem is as difficult to comprehend conceptually as is the nature of Terror. It is is easy to provide neat definitions in both cases. But there is little consensus in practice as to what is meant in each case. Everyone is "against" Terror, just as everyone is "for" Terra. But this is only true at a definitional level that is of little practical relevance for the many concerned parties. In the case of Terra, for some it is sunsets and birdsong -- but for others it is trophy hunting, strip mining and exploiting fishery resources. In the case of Terror, for some it is the death of innocents, whereas for others it is "freedom fighting". American intellectuals in particular have been absolutely unable to come to grips with the involvement of the USA in training "terrorists" for action in Latin America. Patterns of deep denial are characteristic of the approach to both Terra and Terror.

One of the unfortunate consequences of the interaction between humans and Nature is that an encounter with a single wild beast -- bear, wolf, crocodile, snake, tiger -- that threatens the life of a human, results immediately in an outcry for the suppression of every representative of that species. The species may even be described as inherently "evil". A similar pattern is evident in the case of any alternative perspective that may have threatened a particular individual -- as illustrated by the response to some sects and cults (whether really dangerous, or only stereotyped as such).

Within American culture, the response harks backs to the days of the Pilgrim Fathers whose Puritan ethic (still extolled by contemporary religious advisers of President Bush) had views as rigid as the Taliban concerning women and other matters -- and especially perspectives different from their own. This extended to prohibition of dancing, drinking, card playing, ribaldry, fashionable clothes and other amusements. When the Puritans temporarily gained control in England, they banned entertainments, closed theaters, and prescribed the death penalty for sex outside of marriage. In the USA, their body guilt and shame became the law of the land; sexual offences in the sixteenth century were punished by the whipping of both parties. Puritans in Massachusetts set up a religious police state in which deviation from their religion could result in flogging, pillorying, hanging, banishment, having one's ears cut off, or having one's tongue bored through with a hot iron. Exactly how fanatical were many of the early Christian settlers, and as an illustration of just how badly they were infected with the worst excesses of that religion, was illustrated by the Salem witch hunt, which took place in colonial Massachusetts in 1692. This resulted (following appropriate torture) in the execution of 20 people and the imprisonment of 150. It is useful to explore whether the "evil" of which Osama bin Laden has been accused - seemingly on the basis of equally circumstantial evidence -- has not triggered a collective psychic response framed unconsciously by this traumatic formative period in American culture. The pursuit of him has many characteristics of a witch hunt -- perhaps unconsciously designed to purify American society through the kind of cathartic, scapegoating process necessary to the stability of a conceptually "closed" society.

Western civilization has been unable to come to terms with the violence of Nature which sustains life on Earth. Every species is some other species' lunch. Humans sustain their own lives by depriving other species of life -- and in large part by depriving human competitors of their share of vital resources. Most animals live in constant fear of their lives -- as do significant numbers of humans, including millions of Americans so closely associated with a gun culture "for self-defence". The details of the slaughter of animals for human consumption are however considered unfit for the eyes of any but a few. But humans are pleased to watch endless documentaries of the slaughter of one species by another -- and to watch humans and animals being savaged in violent sports, or "murdered" nightly in movies. But although footage of isolated Afghans being executed by the Taliban was repeatedly shown to justify the war -- there has been a total clampdown on the massacres of hundreds of Taliban by the allies of the USA (backed by US Special Forces).

Partnership with Otherness

As many who work with Nature (rather than against it) are aware, this involves a form of complex partnership and stewardship. These proactive terms may unfortunately also be deliberately interpreted to disguise forms of dominance, exploitation and servitude that are the antithesis of true partnership.

The same may be true in relating to cultures that do not exemplify the values of western civilization. In principle there are ways of establishing sustainable partnerships between different cultures and civilizations to the mutual benefit of all. Some of these may also have a quality of stewardship. In practice this partnership relationship may also be deliberately interpreted so as to disguise forms of dominance, exploitation and servitude that are again the antithesis of true partnership.

The mindset sustaining a "War against Terror", or a "War against Terra", is therefore essentially opposed to Otherness of any kind. It is not able to form sustainable partnerships. This is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that it has been impossible to determine which countries, other than the USA and the UK, actually form part of the "global coalition against terror". Nuances of perspective cannot be handled by the Them-or-Us mindset -- as will be evident in efforts to form a sustainable "broad-based democratic government" grouping the complex ethnic groups of Afghanistan. Partnership is then only possible on the basis of the opportunistic rules of the dominant partner -- as is now becoming evident in European legislative responses imposed by the American requirements for future business in their Them-or-Us world (eg data privacy, etc).

The special problem for those engaged in the "War against Terror" is that those with "other" views must necessarily be defined as "terrorists" or at least as "terrorist fellow-travellers". This means that all debate that is not founded on unquestioning belief in the validity of that war is prohibited -- undermining any form of dialogue, basic to democratic society, for an indeterminate period (up to 50 years, according to some estimates). With the conflation of "terror" and "terra", a new term is being applied by mainstream authorities to any that are out of sympathy with the single dominant vision, namely "rejectionist". As with "infidel" in Islam, this has now become a term of opprobrium -- that can justify personal intimidation, harassment and violence, and increasingly legal action or even state-sanctioned assassination. Dialogue with "the other" is excluded by definition -- as exemplified by George Bush's refusal to negotiate with the Taliban (after having covertly done so as soon as he came into power).

Worse in many ways, is the fact that the Them-or-Us logic then inhibits any possibility of dealing with complexity as typified by natural ecosystems, social ecosystems or the ecology of knowledge -- all basic to management of a complex society dependent on interdependence in complex natural systems. A typical response to Otherness, avoiding proximity, is exemplified by the carpet bombing strategy favoured by the Americans in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistian -- there is no alternative if dangerous contamination by the Other is to be avoided. How many Americans have met a Taliban face-to-face or endeavoured to engage with them?

"Terraism", "Terraists", etc

Given the above conflation, there is a case for exploring the need for terms such as the following -- and clarifying their possible significance. Note that most are often indistinguishable in their pronunciation from the Terror variant::

"Terra-tory" potentially offers great insight into the ambiguities of the current crisis. "Tory" is best recognized as representing an upholder of the conservative, establishment regime -- especially in the UK. However for Americans it also signifies someone who assisted the British when American colonists were revolting against them -- as "terrorists"? Earlier still it indicated the most hot-headed asserters of the royal prerogative -- prior to which it signified the marauding dispossessed in distant lands, notably bandits and "terrorists" (according to one dictionary). These complex and ambivalent associations help to clarify the way in which "territory" might be both a bounded domain controlled by an establishment regime, whilst simultaneously recalling the disruptive, dispossessed "terrorists" with claims on that domain. The former are capable of imposing their will within the domain through one form of "terror", whilst the latter respond with a second. Implicit in "terra-tory" is therefore much of the dynamic of the Middle East, the challenges of indigenous peoples, and the aspirations of humans to assert their dominion over Terra -- as "Tories" terrorized by the vagaries of Nature's forces.

Given that the major legislative measure in the USA in response to Terrorism (and Terrorists) is named the "Patriot Act" (26 October 2001) -- it becomes important to understand how this single-country focus contrasts with that of Terraism (and Terraists). Terraism has an inherently global focus. It is concerned with the sustainability of environmental and other systems on a global scale. Ironically this is dramatically contrasted with the narrow and unsustainable economic preoccupation of US-inspired corporate "globalization" that has so closely associated itself with the "War against Terror" -- being the most threatened by any Terraist perspective. Within the conceptual and legal framework now established by the USA, "patriotism" must ensure the survival of the American Way of Life at any cost to other peoples. This is totally opposed to any understanding of the survival of the lifestyles of citizens of any other nations -- except insofar as their economic activities contribute to the American lifestyle. In contrast, a Terraist perspective seeks to use the intellectual and legal resources of humanity to reconcile the needs of all citizens of Terra -- a perspective that is now effectively treasonous within the USA.

The use of the term "Patriot" makes a further point concerning the "War against Terror". It is essentially a derivative of male consciousness (as exemplified by the "Patriot Missile" used in the Gulf War) -- the subject of so much criticism from a feminist perspective. It has associations with "Fatherland" -- itself a limited notion. Missing from this approach is any sense of "Motherland" or "Matriot" -- a term recently coined in the USA. And for a Terraist, the use of the term "Patriot" is already further indication of the manner in which thinking is locked into binary logic excluding or rejecting the other -- in this case the femine complement. The sustainability of Terra and of Nature is dependent on a healthy relationship between the two genders -- through which new life is engendered. It is dependent on complementarity in a complex world of interdependencies. The "War against Terror" is indeed a "War against Terra" -- and against the essence of life of any form.

A "terraist" is necessarily a "terrorist" to anyone at war with Nature

But can we afford to relax -- if its just a pronunication problem?

Should "Friends of the Earth" be renamed "Friends of Terra"?

How will the extra-terrestials respond -- and how will humans respond to extra-terrestrials?


Anthony Judge:

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