Civilization Means Not Killing People

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Civilization Means Not Killing People

"Grandfather, look at our brokenness. We have forgotten who we are."

My own days are short now — in a dim light, not knowing if dusk or dawn, I write in search of the beautiful trail.

~ Jeff Knaebel

I write as the seeker of a vision. Spinning and lost in the dense fog of a concrete jungle industrial wasteland, I write as if my pen is a machete, to cut away the underbrush of abstract obfuscation, to recover a path. A path away from oblivion and toward the light of compassion, respect, and reason informed by love.

The intention of the following excerpts is to lay a foundation, to smoothen a patch of earth on which to place some ceremonial artifacts. These extracts are like signs as I hunt for a path. I write between the marks made by predecessors, like a compass needle swinging in its aim to settle on North.

It is your choice to look — with curiosity or hope, or perhaps expectancy — or else to click and surf away. In this, at least, you are free, although as long as the State exists, you will never be free of the war tax, by which the merchants of death exchange blood for money profits.

With words I seek a path of redemption, of resurrection of our lives and the life of this earth.


"My name is Chellis, and I’m in recovery from western civilization." Thus does Chellis Glendinning begin her book of the same title (1994, New Catalyst). She continues:

The truth is that just about everybody I know who is serious about personal healing, social change, and ecological rebalancing is in recovery: from personal addiction, childhood abuse, childhood deprivation, the nuclear family, sexism, racism, urban alienation, combat service in the trenches of the gender wars, the threat of extinction, linear thinking, the mind/body split, technological progress, and the mechanistic worldview.

In the face of this overwhelming onslaught, an equally overwhelming question arises: what on Earth is wrong with us?…

[Ed. — I have had long and direct personal experience with most of the above list of afflictions. Of the last two — which are not the most important in terms of personal dysfunction — the memory of a corporate mine management meeting provides a glimpse. At issue was the size of trucks and shovels for an open pit copper mine. Larger trucks would provide the same haulage with fewer drivers. The senior executive prevailed in deciding for larger trucks with correspondingly fewer employees, because, in his words, "Trucks don’t argue with management."]

Mental Pathology

Lost with the advance of civilization was our long-standing ability to enter into nature-induced nonordinary states of consciousness for the purpose of healing, revelation, and connectedness with the natural world. With ever-decreasing contact with birds, animals, and the seasons, we had less opportunity to work out our psychological conflicts by communion with natural forces. Over the generations we came to forget the healing process with its mysterious unfolding of experience and essence, and this ancient knowledge lost its place at the center of human culture.

Instead, we came to view psychological and physical imbalances in the same way we were coming to perceive all other external problems — as solvable only by knee-jerk technological fixes like synthetic pills, by mechanistic forms of social control like behavior modification and mental institutions, and by wholesale eradication with shock therapy and lobotomies.

Not surprisingly, as the human psyche came to lose trust, integrity, and communion, as intergenerational abuse became more commonplace, and as the inevitable injuries of an increasingly technological world added to the overall stress, the task of healing grew into something more complex than it had ever been.

Traumatic Stress

The experience of trauma has become all too commonplace — today we live almost entirely apart from natural rhythms, encased in technological environments and mechanistic social forms, subject to an entire system caught in a seemingly unending cycle of abuse. As the aftershocks of our collective trauma have become "normal" fare for our psyches, healing ourselves has become a lifelong task.

Any one of us, you or I, may be harboring the psychic burdens of alcoholic parents, childhood violence, the loss of a sibling, combat service, divorce, rape, illness, drug-addicted children, plus robberies, muggings, and car accidents. Add to these the constant violence of racism and sexism, the constant threat of murder in the streets, the unrelenting demise of the ecosphere. Chernobyl. Desert Storm. Bosnia. South Africa. [Emphasis indicates direct personal experience of this editor].

Given this horrific situation, it is not trauma that has come to exist outside the range of usual human experience. The traumatizing process is constant and chronic in mass technological society; it is our knowledge of healing and the means to heal from the onslaught that have become nearly lost.

This is certainly a perspective that goes against our sunny ethic of progress which insists that we are consistently growing smarter, stronger, healthier and more evolved. As a lifelong participant in a civilization marked by wanton ecological destruction with endemic psychological tendencies toward abuse and addiction, I have come to question the cynical assumption that such contemporary behaviors are "normal" expressions of "human nature."

Native and indigenous peoples have long wondered at the western way of being and seen it as, if not pathological, bizarre. Choctaw-Cree Gerald Haslam describes this way of being as "feeling a strange kind of pity for these hopeless creatures who possessed no magic, no union with earth or sky, only the ability to hurt and to kill… sad and dangerous, like a broken rattlesnake."

Apart from unrecorded commentary on the western personality made by indigenous people, Sigmund Freud was one of the first to raise the possibility that civilization itself may be psychopathological. In 1939 he wrote, "May we not be justified in reaching the diagnosis that, under the influence of cultural urges, some civilizations have become neurotic?" Philosopher Lewis Mumford spoke of "mad rationality," while R.D. Laing asserted that our "socially shared hallucinations, our collusive madness is what we call sanity." Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm observed "That millions of people share the same form of mental pathology does not make those people sane."

Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma has distinct and identifiable psychological symptoms… the subject engages in protective devices… among which we find the following:

Hyperactivity — chronic anxiety, jumpiness, tendency to knee-jerk reactions…men quick to use violence against women…the rush to litigation…the assumption that a class of persons are hooligans… An institutional example is the Cold war practice of deterrence [Mutually Assured Destruction]…

Recurrent intrusive recollections of trauma, flashbacks, and nightmares. Projections of past trauma into the present or future.

Psychic numbing, constriction of feeling, warding off such intrusions, a diminished capacity or inclination to feel. A dead approach has become the modus operandi of most people living in mass technological society.

A sense of powerlessness over one’s destiny, a sense of futurelessness, a surrender of patterns. These signal the triumph of victimization in the survivor’s psyche — the belief rooted in original experience that nothing can be done to stop the onslaught. We witness this in passive witnessing of violence against individuals and corporate destruction of the earth. We sense that there is no future in an age of mass society, multinational takeover, military dominance, unrelenting development, and ecological disaster.

Arrested genetic and psychosocial development. Social dislocations broke the ancient way of raising children, causing disjunction in the built-in synchronicity between the child’s expectations for development and the cultural supports provided for it.

Narcissism. Everybody and everything that does not form part of the individual’s needs is not fully real and is perceived only by intellectual recognition. As an outgrowth of traumatic experience, the satisfactions of one’s needs for security, integrity and communion is truncated, leaving the individual in such a needy state that she can only survive by u2018looking out for number one.’ The result is a plethora of raving egotists among us.

Thinking disorders. Those that typically accompany the traumatized mind stem from a constant intra-psychic pressure to maintain vigilance, ward off unbearable memories, numb one’s heart, bolster a chronic sense of powerlessness, and forge recognition in the outside world. The traumatized mentality often includes rigid, overly rationalistic, either/or logic, and grandiose strategizing.

Having lost our place in the natural world, we began to formulate a new perceptual context for ourselves. We create linear perspective, the modern scientific paradigm, and techno-utopia. Trauma is the freeway to addiction. The main feature of technological society is not merely the rapid change — it is the destruction of things past, the rendering irrelevant of practices, values, connections, and memory inherited from tradition.

[Ed. My experience with acharyas (spiritual teachers) in several Indian ashrams has demonstrated to me that the west is farther down the road of psychopathology than the east (figure of speech admittedly an excessive generalization), although India is rapidly u2018catching up’ with the advent of nuclear families in urban areas. In attempting to counsel western seekers through the sudden release of suppressed childhood trauma, the Indian mentors simply could not relate to the nature of these afflictions. Assault on the child from within the family was outside their experience. I was called to serve as a "facilitator-translator" between Indian teacher and western student.]

Psychological Dysfunction — Ecological Crisis

I set out to draw a relationship between the deluge of psychological dysfunctions among us and the ecological crisis besieging our planet. This linkage requires diagnosing the fundamental pathologies of our western world. To counter this, I offered a glimpse of sanity in nature-based culture.

Our lives upon this earth are part of a vast, magnificent, and unfathomable whole. Man is inextricably intertwined with his communion on the mountain of his ancestors. If you chase him from the mountain, you tamper with his mind. [emphasis added]

When the patterns of livelihood connecting our nomadic ancestors to the web of life were broken in one seemingly minor way — domestication — the whole was shattered into a thousand pieces.

[Ed. With an unfathomable sorrow, Black Elk spoke of the hoop of his people having been broken by Hotchkiss guns at Wounded Knee — beyond any conception of mending. Looking back on my days as a field geologist, I can see the inchoate urge to connect with the old nomadic pattern. Professor Folinsbee (U Alberta) said that geologists were the last of the nomadic spear-chuckers.

I can see it now, and feel the tragedy in the way that we tried unconsciously to "return" to that which had been lost, using helicopters and drilling machines and dynamite…

We had already made the wrong turn long ago, when we invented a god made in our likeness and began the attempt to harness divine energy through technology].

The question I hope to have raised is this: what does it mean to be a human being? This question has been asked throughout history. Originally nature-based people answered it by living as humble participants in the embracing cycle of sycamore, blueberry, rainfall and spirit. About ten thousand years ago, western peoples began to answer the question with an unprecedented dedication to managed fecundity.

[This may be the point where we made the wrong turn. In The Ringing Cedars of Russia (Vladimir Megre), Anastasia says it was at this point in history that the vision — and the responsibility — of the wisdom keepers became corrupted].

I offer a personal challenge to embark upon this process of recovery from western civilization, to begin to reclaim those parts of yourself and the earth that have been lost. Turn over in your mind the "nagging fact of Euro-American and native relations" (Kolodny): on the whole, the native peoples of this earth have never longed to join the dominant civilization. They have preferred to be left alone to live their own ways.

Native Messages of Warning

The Kogi are an indigenous people of the Sierra Nevada of Columbia, the last intact population of preconquest Mesoamericans. More than four centuries ago, the Spanish conquistadores slaughtered their ancestors, gunning them down, setting vicious dogs upon them, cutting off ears to get gold jewelry.

The Kogi Nation of today was pieced together by survivors who fled into the mountains to form a subsistence society. They call themselves the Elder Brothers. They call all the conquerors who came with and after Columbus — armies, gold diggers, bankers, guerillas, tomb looters, bureaucrats, miners, drug lords, prostitutes, archeologists, anthropologists, and tourists — the Younger Brother.

In 1988 they made a decision to speak to the Younger Brother about the fate of the Earth just once, and then return to hiding. They did this through historian and journalist Alan Ereira and a BBC film crew that was allowed to enter their land. This is what their oracle said:

"From the beginning in Columbia
everything, everything remained as it always was
among us,
the native people;
the same belief,
the same mask,
the same dance.
Everything well organized,
In order, a terrace for every animal…
But Younger brother came from another country
and immediately he saw gold
and immediately he began to rob.
There were golden images,
golden oracles.
The Mama prophesied with golden bowls,
he had a golden tuma,
he had everything
and younger Brother took it all to another country.
Now the Mama grows sad,
he feel weak.
He says that the earth is decaying.
The earth is losing its strength
because they have taken away much petrol,
many minerals…
So the earth today catches disease of all kinds.
The animals die.
The trees dry up.
People fall ill.
Many illnesses will appear,
and there will be no cure for them.
Because Younger Brother is among us,
Younger Brother is violating
the basic foundation of the world’s law.
A total violation.
Building highways,
extracting petrol,
so the Mamas say,
Please BBC
no one else should come here,
no more ransacking
because the earth wants to collapse,
the earth grows weak,
we must protect it,
we must respect it,
because he does not respect the earth,
because he does not respect it.
The earth feels.
They take out the petrol,
it feels pain there.
So the earth sends out sickness.
There will be many medicines,
but in the end the drugs will not be of any use,
neither will the medicine be of any use.
The Mamas say that this tale must be learnt
by the Younger Brother."

[During my stay among the Zuni and Hopi, I was told of similar prophesies. Elders of the Tarahumara told me, "The white man will destroy himself." In 1908, Gandhi’s writings in Hind Swaraj foretold this same crisis to be faced by European civilization. See also Columbus and Other Cannibals by Professor J.D. Forbes, (U Cal). He calls the affliction of civilization "wetiko," an infectious mental disease of cannibalism].


The incentive for recovery from Western "civilization" seems obvious. It is our will to survive.

"Civilization does not mean electric lights. It does not mean producing atomic bombs, either. Civilization means not killing people." ~ Nichidatsu Fujii, Buddhist Nihonzan Miyohoji Temple

The proof that we are not civilized is everywhere around us — endless war surrounds us — and we murder for hire. Our behavior is lower than the brutes, because we have conscious self-awareness that life is precious to ourselves, and thus to all others. Our behavior since the industrial revolution is not worthy of the human being.

Take a look at two of the five basic precepts taught by the Buddha, as modified by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn for residents of his teaching center at Plum Village, France. Then glance back at the message from the Kogi on the preceding page and compare.

"The First Training: Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I vow to cultivate compassion and learn ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing in the world, in my thinking and in my way of life."

Emphasis was added in the above to call attention to the moral hazard: when I pay taxes, I not only let others kill, I finance it, and thus become an accomplice in it. This also points the moral flaw of "representative government." It is not possible for one person to represent the conscience of another, because one cannot know the conscience of another. Certainly the decision of war versus peace — since the twentieth century a decision of mass murder — is a decision of conscience. This responsibility is beyond the capacity of one person to assign to another.

"The Second Training: Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on earth."

I submit that we — as laypersons who hold in our hearts a respect for life — must examine the implications of the second training with respect to the profligate and destructive consumerism all around. Much of what we consume has in effect been stolen from the indigenous and rural poor by Multi National Corporations acting with State support. Much of corporate profit comes at a terrible cost of environmental destruction and human suffering.

If we are "not to possess anything that should belong to others," then how can we purchase corporate products which were manufactured with resources taken by force from their rightful original owners — the people of the land who were there first and living on the land until "civilization" forcibly displaced them?

How can I enjoy my refrigerator when I know it was made by a corporation whose facilities occupy land taken by coercion under the laws of Eminent Domain in a third world country? The manufacture of my refrigerator is at the cost of children who go to bed hungry because their family has been made landless. How to have guilt-free enjoyment of these amenities? Only by complete denial of the humanity of others, and total alienation of myself.

For most of the last fifteen years I lived without these things. I came down from Himalaya with failing health, and my use of this desktop PC to fight the system is fraught with inner conflict about where, actually, is the right place to work.


The incentive for change of behavior is the wish to live, the will to survive. For any species to survive, it must enhance both itself and its environment. Upon reflection, does this not seem almost self-evident? As Chellis Glendinning asks above, "what on earth is wrong with us?"


"You call it wild, but it wasn’t really wild. It was free." ~ Leon Shenandoah

The Corporate Warfare State is killing the planet, and thus it is killing us also. Industrial "civilization" has made us dependent upon inhuman institutions instead of other people. We no longer live in a society of human beings. We live in an economy of morally lobotomized consumer robots.

A mindless meaningless mechanized economy is not a civilization. It is not a culture. It is an abstract, lifeless, irresponsible machine — irresponsible to humanity, and to life on this earth.

Are we collectively insane? Chellis Glendinning and others of high stature make a point of the scientific and psychological validity of this question. It cannot be lightly dismissed.

However, I would place before you the notion of a sick, co-dependent relationship with a smaller group of sociopathic egomaniacs who are in fact insane — in the sense that sanity implies a love and respect for human life as well as the lives of other sentient beings. This small group comprises a cabal that can be called the Establishment of Mass Destruction. It is the Power Structure of a world ruled by money, acting through corporations.

This Enemy Is Armed, Ruthless, and Dangerous

The existence and the modus operandi of this Power Structure are set forth in a vast body of documentation that is partially referenced on the websites listed below, as well as by this author at A few that come to mind at the moment are Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Perkins); The Creature From Jekyll Island (Griffin); The Sorrows of Empire (Johnson); War Is A Racket (Butler); websites such as;;;; International Clearing House;; TomDispatch;;, and many others.

The works of John Zerzan, Davison Budhoo, Derrick Jensen, John Pilger, Ward Churchill, Vine Deloria, Howard Zinn, Jack Forbes, Jerry Mander, Vinoba Bhave, William Rivers Pitt, Sunita Narain, Carl Watner, Dharampal Thich Nhat Hahn, Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Vladimir Megre, and Subcomandante Marcos are recommended. This website also features a small bibliography.

Some of the murderous operations of this Power Structure were noted recently by John Pilger, in his report about the death of the Indonesian dictator Suharto which appeared in The Guardian. If there should remain any doubt in the reader’s mind, let him or her read about the US Government involvement in Suharto’s mass genocide and subsequent US operations elsewhere on the same model. The Power Structure — whose reward from Suharto was access to an incalculable wealth of natural resources — included major US corporations and individuals of the elite such as David Rockefeller, who were direct participants in orchestrating events.

Time magazine described the horrors: "The killings have been on such a scale the disposal of corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in east Java and northern Sumatra, where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies." At least 500,000 Indonesians died violently in the months following the takeover, but studies suggest the figure might have been between a million and two million.

The preceding is a vignette of history. Service in the Viet Nam war put history in my face. French tanks mired in rice paddies in 1947 didn’t look much different than ours mired in rice paddies twenty years later. Via TV, the abominable depravity of the Iraq war is in our collective living room daily. The contractors have many of the same names as those in Viet Nam forty years earlier. The beneficiaries of war are the same. "When will they ever learn?"

This all works out as the Mamas of the Kogi people described in their 1988 message to Elder Brother. The Buddha warned us. We have been warned by St Francis of Assisi, the Iroquois, Thoreau, Black Elk, Chief Joseph, Mohandas Gandhi, Rachel Carson, the Mamas of the Kogi people, and many others in a long line of sages. So far, we have heeded not.

If We Are Not Collectively Insane, What To Do?

The website at discusses hopes, dreams, and action ideas on its homepage and subsections thereof, as well as in essays and subsidiary postings. The most recent, for which this is now being written as a companion piece, is posted under title Mohandas Gandhi Points A Better Way.

We face a daunting moral and spiritual crisis. We must evolve to a higher level of consciousness — to a way of being in the world that is manifested as a human community of love and reason — or else continue to face the clear and present danger of extinction.

Our species is in jeopardy, and no legislature will ever put it on the "endangered" list. We must seek non-political solutions. Solutions that grow from below, like the grass — not "final solutions" dropped from above, like bombs.

Our enemies are both internal and external. The internal enemy is the accumulation of mental impurities that express as greed and fear. Each must deal with this in their own way. No one can do the inner work of another. The external enemy is the Power Structure that is also motivated by fear and greed.

We cannot acquiesce to this war against life without immense consequences to ourselves. We cannot support this war against life and reason and compassion without immeasurable consequences to ourselves. If we do nothing to change this system, we are accomplices to it.

Direct Action Is There, and It Can Work

In present time, the Power Structure is institutionalized as Central Bankers and the "iron triangle" of military-industrial-political complex through which the financial cartel imposes its rule. They rule us only because we volunteer for the servitude. They cannot rule without our cooperation. Even coerced cooperation is cooperation.

The establishment is helpless without "us." The approach of nonviolent direct action is to deny the enemy the human assistance and cooperation which are necessary if he is to exercise control over the population. Power rests upon the cooperation and assistance of other people.

If we believe that the Corporate Warfare State is messing with our minds as one of its methods in its assault (with our cooperation) upon the earth’s capacity to support life, then one of the simplest means to take our lives back is to quit supporting corporations with our purchase dollars, and start supporting real people.

The next step up the ladder of courage is to quit paying income tax. Next thereafter might be a Direct Action Defense committee which physically intervenes to prevent corporate destruction. The actions of Greenpeace to prevent whale killing is a type example. We are the only species known to take concrete steps (pun intended) to destroy our own life support.

The best current examples of on-the-ground Direct Action known to me are:

1. The farmers at Nandigram and elsewhere in India who are resisting the government’s seizure of their land in order that it can be granted to corporations with major tax incentives in Special Economic Zones. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand who is "Special." Parliamentary laws of Eminent Domain in India, and Supreme Court decisions in America reflect the Tyrannical Eminence of money over life.

2. The Zapatistas of the State of Chiapas, Mexico. Here below are some words of Subcomandante Marcos for your consideration (The Speed of Dreams, 2007)

March 11, 2001, Zocalo in Mexico City

Mexico City:

We have arrived.
We are here.
We are the National Indigenous Congress and Zapatistas who are,
together, greeting you.

It is not accidental that the grandstand where we meet is located where it is. It is because, from the very beginning, the government has been at our backs.

Sometimes with artillery helicopters, sometimes with paramilitaries, sometimes with war tanks, sometimes with soldiers, sometimes with the police, sometimes with offers for the buying and selling of consciences, sometimes with offers for surrender, sometimes with strident statements, sometimes with forgetting, sometimes with expectant silences. Sometimes, like today, with impotent silences.

That is why the government never sees us, why it does not listen to us.

If they quickened the pace a bit, they might catch up with us.

They could see us then, and listen to us.

They could understand the long and firm perspective of the one who is persecuted and who, nonetheless, is not worried, because he knows that it is the steps that follow which requires attention and determination.

The Zapatista people. The men, children, women, and old ones, support bases of the Zapatista Army of the National Liberation, who are the feet that walk us, the voice that speaks us, the looking that makes us visible, the ear that makes us heard.

We should not have been here.

And nonetheless, we are.


Civilization means not killing people. We should not have been here. Nonetheless, we are.

The Corporate Warfare State is killing the earth. We are all dying. The Corporate State must go.

It must go into the dustbin of human history, a brief and tragic interlude when biological man forgot who he is, and created an industrial petroleum-based economy and called it a civilization.

If we do nothing to change this system, we become accomplices to it. If we do not repudiate lies, we become liars. We must challenge the corporate Power Structure and the political class that lives off and with it.

Shall we sow fear, and reap servitude and the sorrows of the oppressed —

Or, shall we sow seeds of righteous indignation at the destruction of our world,

cultivate the seeds with direct action, and reap courage, strength and freedom?

We are all indigenous now — there is only one earth.
We are all Zapatistas now — there is only one revolution.

We must free ourselves, in order that we may live. We have not much of time.

Quit war. Repudiate taxation. Ignore the State. Live long, live free. Seek the peace of the brave.

May goodness, beauty and truth prevail in your life and extend to all,

~ Jeff Knaebel

Jeff Knaebel [send him mail] is an expatriate American domiciled in India since 1995. He formerly practiced as a registered professional engineer, having been trained at Cornell Univ. and the Colorado School of Mines.

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