The recent documentary If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, directed/produced/written/edited by Marshall Curry is destined to not garner the kind of attention it deserves.
Groups like the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) and ELF are labelled terrorist organizations due to their destruction of private property, via arson and explosives, in an attempt to, as they claim, intervene in those practices destructive of the earth.
Speaking for myself, I’m not much of a fan of fighting fire with fire (unless, of course, it’s a real fire–sometimes that works well). The creed often employed by these groups, “No Compromise!”, can be just as dangerous as that which it opposes. It incites the kind of mentality that assumes one group is completely right and the other is completely wrong. It leads to the demonization of the other which tends to polarize issues leading not to understanding or change, but to further animosity and misunderstanding.
At the same time, those who stand to make untold amounts of money off the destruction of our planet (through the similar use of explosives–as well as logging, destruction of entire eco-systems, killing and maim both plant and animal life) are not, curiously enough, being held accountable. They are not considered domestic terrorists because such destruction is not considered destruction if it sustains the so-called “good life.”
So, just to make sure we’re getting this right the formula appears to be: destroying the earth with the proper permits obtained by the collusion of money and wealthy government officials is permissible, but destroying something that destroys the earth equals terrorism.
Yeah, I’m a little confused, too.
Though I am not “on board” with the activities of the ELF, I do sympathize with their passion to save a world that will never be as beautiful as it is at this very moment (thanks Andy!). Our loss of land along with entire species is never-ending. Such beauty is not coming back. It is, therefore, incredibly hypocritical for government agencies, the media and their wallet-fillers to refer to the ELF as terrorists while wringing their hands clean of the vast amount of destruction of which they are directly responsible. A few ‘anarchists’ could never conceive of, nor be responsible for, the kind of destruction that competes with the level of ‘First World’ human greed. Unfortunately, on a pragmatic level, the activities of the ELF and ALF make it possible for those responsible for so much destruction a way out: it gives them a group to demonize so that no one pays any attention to their own massive sleight of hand.
I do think, however, a different sort of approach, a different tactic, a creative sort of embodiment–one based on Gandhian nonviolence, perhaps–that exposes greed and destruction for what it is without participating in its very mode and discourse of violence is a better strategy. The approach of employing the tools of the enemy render it much too easy for the enemy to quell any real attempt to make or inspire change. We need, therefore, something different. Something not based on destruction but on creation. We need the kind of practices that peacefully expose who the agents of destruction really are and how we can live in a world without the necessity of destruction.
I readily admit that I am not sure what such a creative embodiment would look like. Perhaps a smorgasbord of the following would be a lovely start: Black Beauty Ranch, Anathoth Community Garden, Jonah House, GEN, Koinonia, The Elephant Sanctuary, and Noah’s Ark. None of these places are perfect, but they are all attempting to figure out how to live peaceably with one another, with other animals, and without pillaging our planet. So, maybe there is something we can learn from these groups that provide us with the resources to undo that which needs to be undone through creative construction rather than destruction.
Regardless, If A Tree Falls provides a lovely starting point for how to think about these issues. This documentary at least gives us a place to reflect. It discusses the inconsistencies of how one form of destruction is permissible (e.g., slaughtering feral horses) but another form is not (trying to stop, through property damage, the slaughtering of feral horses). At the same time, it discusses sympathizers and participants who are no longer convinced that vandalism and destruction are valid approaches. Indeed, the best feature of the documentary is it does not so much take sides as it complicates the one-sided conversations both groups consistently entertain. That, in and of itself, makes it worthy of consideration.
So, check it out.
Because, you know . . . something exciting could really happen on this week’s episode of The Bachelor and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.