I’ve been reading Derrick Jensen’s semi-memoir, A Language Older Than Words. In a chapter called “Seeking a Third Way,” he describes making a comment at a public meeting that breaks “the basic commandment of our culture: Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.” Later, in “The Goal Is the Process,” he ponders what to name the people responsible for destroying the forest near his home, so they can build houses. His dictionary, he says, “defines develop as to cause to become gradually fuller, larger, better” – which is not what happens when a thriving – albeit non-human – community is replaced with a monocrop of petro-cement apartment blocks. I too have struggled with this question; when I dare, I replace “develop” with “monetize” – knowing I’m breaking the social consensus, yet loath to let the easier, falser word constrict my throat.
Jensen ventures a step further: “Killers is probably the best name for them,” he says, “because that’s what they do.”
Right now, in Beacon, in the “linkage zone” between the train station and Main Street, carnage erupts behind a gesture of a fence. Apartments are slated to be built there; the trees have been bulldozed in preparation – along, I presume, with countless creatures who once made that place their home.
I think now of a friend’s comment that white people like to wax eloquent about their precious environment, while ignoring the violence we perpetrate on black and brown people, in collusion with our culture of white supremacy, every day. What is true here? What is true about that?
In the case of this particular stretch of land, there’s a connection between violence done on behalf of white supremacy and violence done to trees. The urban removal project executed in that area decades ago destroyed a black community. And the common thread, as Jensen points out time and again, may be the silencing – the pretense of no pain felt, no pain that matters – preceding the forced uprooting of our fellowbeings.
The “linkage zone” is on my mind because I attended a meeting the other night on Beacon’s comprehensive plan. I believe the planner at the podium was speaking of the MTA when he said, of a particular parcel, something like, “That’s their property. They can do whatever they want with it.” For some reason – maybe because I was in the midst of the Jensen book – I heard the word “property,” and the sentence surrounding it, in a new and sinister way. I heard it echoing back to the days of slavery, and wives as wards of their husbands. I flashed on a man flinging a woman across a room, not caring if she cracked a bone as she smashed against the wall – she’s his property; he can do what he wants with her. Thou shalt pretend there is nothing wrong.
Should the verb “develop” ever take a living object? Perhaps it can only respectfully be transitive when what’s being developed is a story, an understanding, an idea. Then again, maybe not even stories can be developed – maybe they are received, through listening. Maybe when the writer, or teller, listens well enough, the story develops itself.