Destroying the village to save it

The hostage situation at the Discovery Channel is ongoing, and we can only hope it will end peacefully. But the "environmental" manifesto posted by the alleged gunman doesn't point to compromise, or, frankly, lucidity.

James Lee's (the site is unavailable right now, likely due to the crush of attention it just got) showcased his manifesto, which is difficult to summarize but the gist of it is that as humans are destroying the planet, humanity itself must be stopped.

Discovery Channel Gunman
Police block the street in front of the headquarters of the Discovery Channel. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

The problem for environmentalists is that, well, yeah, humans are pretty much destroying the planet. So part of the premise is right. But the rest of this whole incident illustrates how any kind of activism can go awry when the activist feels justified in adopting a "any means necessary" approach.

Not only does it not follow from that premise that humanity itself need be stopped (e.g. if humans somehow stopped destroying the planet the premise would be obviated), but even if one thought that did follow, going into the Discovery Channel with a gun and explosives is doomed to be counter-productive to achieve that goal.

Why discuss this insane situation so sanely? Because whatever happens, the actions of this gunman, apparently a very fervent environmentalist, constitute a PR black eye for those who share even the smallest slice of his ideology, and you can be sure anti-environmentlsts are even now readying screeds on how this extremism must be built into our worldview. (Case in point: As I was typing this, Drudge was spotlighting a phrase in an MSNBC article about how Lee had been 'awakened' by Al Gore's 'Inconvenient Truth.' Still waiting for first 'unabomber' mention.) 

Already Daniel Quinn, author of "Ishmael," has been dragged into the reporting because the first sentence of Lee's manifesto name-checks him as inspiration. Even though Quinn points out that "environmentalism" implies that humans and their concerns are separate from the world at large and thus rejects the term, he will likely be called to comment on a viewpoint that is in some ways diametrically opposed: That humans are not only separate but are a "filthy" "parasite" that must be eradicated in order for the environment to thrive.

This is the twisted logic, and the very real power, of force as a rhetorical device: While it's usually terrible at achieving the very ends to which it's being employed, force, or "power-over," is good at generating chaos and knocking down other, competing goals. It's a dynamic Marilyn French explained at great length in Beyond Power, a book anyone who is interested in challenging the status quo should read - and yes, I'm looking at you, ELF, ALF, SHAC and anyone else who thinks arson or death threats in the name of 'greater good' makes sense.

We'll have more on this later, but the lesson already is that no matter how "pure" our planet-saving goals, creative solutions cannot be generated at the end of a gun barrel. There simply is no war to end all wars.

UPDATE 5:14: Today's crisis is apparently over, with the gunman shot by police, hostages released.