Wrenched the movie
March 5 @ 8:30pm
University of Oregon, Willamette 100
“Filmmaker ML Lincoln’s documentary Wrenched reveals how Edward Abbey’s anarchistic spirit and riotous novels influenced and helped guide the nascent environmental movement of the 1970s and ‘80s. Through interviews, archival footage and re-enactments, ML Lincoln captures the outrage of Abbey’s friends who were the original eco-warriors. In defense of wilderness, these early activists pioneered ”monkeywrenching” – a radical blueprint for “wrenching the system.” Exemplified by EarthFirst! in the early ‘80s, direct action and civil disobedience grew in popularity. With tree-spiking, forest occupation and high-profile publicity stunts such as the cracking at Glen Canyon Dam, this group became the eventual target of FBI infiltrators, leading to the arrest of various members.”
Members of Earth first! Describe themselves as ecomilitants; their prototypical slogan embodies the ideals of combat and warfare: “For Earth first! It is all or nothing: win or lose. No truce or cease fire. No surrender. No partitioning of the territory” (Foreman, 349). The apocalyptic-militant mentality, or rather, what Quimby calls “regime of power” is palpable in Earth first!’s discourse. Members say they are creating a biocentric paradigm, a new-world view; this defense, of course, is reactionary. Much like our Prophet John’s was in the NT in relation to Roman Imperial Rule. The sense of urgency in Earth First!’s “regime of power” steamrolls and further fuels their perception of the current destructive anthropocentric, or human-ego centered paradigm. This “new world view” is also consistent with Quimby’s theory of “regime of power.” Humans are destroying the earth (in a more pessimistic sense), and by the evil of their hands, the earth is now headed toward a certain end. Earth first! Members believe it is a moral imperative to fight back. By assigning a value-judgment to the destruction [read: evil] (reinforcing the us vs. them motif inherent in the apocalyptic mentality), members are able to justify their actions as rightful and good: “locating evil also [sic] presumes the possibility of salvation or an escape from evil” and further, Lorentezen says, “the fact that we are in the midst of an unprecedented, anthropogenic extinction crisis and consequently many ecosystems are presently collapsing, provides the essential underpinning and rationale for militancy. Without this claim there is no basis for urgency” (147). This is the “regime of power” that Earth first embodies, firsthand. Fueled by their deep-seeded belief of the inevitability that the earth should end at the hands of technology created by humans, they crusade, mercilessly, for their cause. No doubt, their motives are noble, but their entire discourse (philosophy, tactics, strategies) employ the quintessential apocalyptic discourse. Even as a secular entity, they have “bought in” to the enigmatic and cyclical mentality of apocalyptism. Just like John, actualizing the Romanized, gendered and hypermasculinized imperial discourse of his day to out-man the man (Imperial Rome), so too, does Earth fist! engage in this same kind of subversive discourse practice with its oppressor: technological destruction.
The “regime of truth” most associated with Earth first! Is technological apocalypse via devastation which holds that human invention and technology are responsible for human and world devastation through threats of nuclear crisis, environmental degradation and “mechanized dehumanization” (Quimby, xvi). But, really, (I ask) isn’t it humans who should be held responsible for inventing the technology? Actually, it seems humans are the destructive crux behind all three regime of truths: divine apocalypse, technological apocalypse, Ironic apocalypse (In divine apocalypse, sin [or rather, human choice that allowed sin to enter the world] ultimately leads to the destruction of the world, in technological apocalypse, technology [created by humans] leads to the destruction of the world, and In ironic apocalypse [humans, who invented linear time to make sense of the world, run out of what we have created]) thus, I would call the overarching regime of truth present in all three of these the antropocentic apocalyspe— but no one asked me.
Feminist members of Earth First! Claim that certain strategies and tactics first employed by the ecomilitarist group represent phallic masculinity in which the movement “preferring acts of individual bravado [sic], or mass organizing” demonstrate its radical ecological philosophy (Lorenzen, 150). Similarly, we saw something akin to this in two essays by Stephen Moore: Hypermascuinlity and Divinity and Raping Rome; the theses of both these, to one degree or another, suggest gendered underpinnings of hierarchy between the sexes, gendered rhetoric of male power and dominance and a misogynistic advent that reinforces its apocalyptic discourse. One Earth first! Member noted the inextricable tie between ecology and gender, “If we want to save the planet, we must address root causes like patriarchy and the destructive exploitative society…..we can’t separate it” (151). Subverting the aforementioned cause is the idea that “Mother Earth” (gendered female and anthropomorphic, no less) must be saved from the continuous savagery of rape that humans commit against her (again, reminiscent of Moore); But who are the ideal patron saints to conquer and to protect? Men— no doubt. The historic discourse of power, domination and hierarchy (the power dynamic ever-present in the us vs. them mentality) that is implicit in apocalypticism, is nuanced even in ecological movements such as Earth first!. Thus, the hierarchical power-relation prevails.
The closed system of interpretation identified by Gallagher consists of the text of Revelation, the interpreter, and the context. While the text remains fixed, the interpreter and the context are more fluid. The Branch Davidians formulated their concept of the divine around the image of a “majestic God seated on a throne and holding a scroll sealed with seven seals (199). “ This fixed text was the cornerstone of the community at Mt. Carmel, and provided a basis for Koresh’s “highly coherent [and] closed system of interpretation” (200). For David Koresh, Revelation encompassed all books of the Bible, and contained a singular message or truth. Koresh viewed the Bible as teaching through repetition, which is in turn how he encouraged his students to form a relationship with Revelation: through repetitive, marathon Bible Studies. Koresh’s message was surprisingly non-inclusive; it required an audience that was deeply familiar with the Bible and that was convinced of an imminent last judgment. Though this differentiates Koresh from most prophets, he did follow other millenarians in “renovating tradition. . . [and] so phrasing the new that it emerges as a more appropriate expression of what has always been agreed to be true (202).”
Though in reality it is the text itself that remains fixed, Koresh was able to cement his interpretation as the authoritative interpretation in the Mt. Carmel community. Koresh’s interpretive authority derived from his belief that he was destined to be a prophet and messiah; he viewed his role as not just a teacher of Revelation but one who would bring its prophecies to fruition. As such, he posited himself not just as interpreter but also as a key player in in the apocalypse. Koresh consistently championed the authority of the text over his interpretation, which only served to bolster his credibility. More important than his brushes with the divine (like his ascent into Heaven) were his Bible Studies that continually reinforced the “truth” of his interpretation.
The community of Mt. Carmel was steeped in the belief that significant transformation was on the horizon: they believed that for the first time the Bible was being interpreted correctly, and that judgment was imminent. This imbued the community with a sense of urgency and intense conviction. When the raid by the BATF occurred, this challenged the order of climactic events Koresh had expected to unfold. Thus, as the context of the Mt. Carmel community changed, Koresh adjusted his interpretation to accommodate the unexpected circumstances. Revelation’s message of ultimate vindication provided Koresh with a sense of comfort and certainty, and allowed him to read the deaths of his community members as martyrdom. The dichotomy of good vs. evil presented in Revelation provided Koresh and his community with a framework through which to view themselves as the persecuted churches, and thus created a situation in which Mt. Carmel viewed itself as engaged with the forces of Babylon. As Elaine Pagels has noted, this reductive and archaic view of the world renders negotiation effectively useless, much like the failed negotiations at Waco.
Eugene Gallegher’s essay on the Branch Davidian sect explores the nuances of David Koresh’s interpretive system. Gallegher points out a triangle in which Koresh models his specific hermeneutic of biblical interpretation in the form of a triangle: Text, Interpreter and Context. Gallegher admits that this system, even though fundamentally flawed is quite ingenious. David Koresh, a cult leader to most of society, was a man a man that fundamentally interpreted the whole of Scripture (and life’s events for that matter) as completely centering on the book of Revelation. Furthermore, not only was his interpretation on Revelation generally, but chapters 4 and 5 particularly. He considered himself to be the Lamb of God, opening up the seven seals. The fundamental problem with Koresh’s hermeneutic is the fact that he looks at Scripture through this vacuum of Revelation. Gallegher implies that even with this problematic approach, it strengthened Koresh’s power over his students. In moving from the Text itself, he as the Interpreter found himself in it. In a sense, one could argue that he presuppositions about what the text said guided and lead him to his conclusions. Koresh lacked any sense of objectivity while engaging the Bible. He further vindicated his own interpretation of the Text and of himself (Interpreter) by viewing Revelation only in the Context of where he found himself in Waco, TX. Because Revelation repeatedly discusses and draws on images of the persecuted faithful, when the BATF and the FBI engaged in a standoff with him, it further supported Koresh’s claim to fame. At this point, even in hindsight, it’s hard to see a different outcome than the tragedy that took place at Waco. Koresh, by tickling the ears of his blindly faithful through endless manipulative and isogetical study of the Bible, must have known that a blood bath would undoubtedly ensue. The interactions between government agencies and the Branch Davidians were ridiculous on both sides. Perhaps the side of the government was even more ridiculous. In dealing with an extremist religious sect, the more they are persecuted, the more they hold to their beliefs. Why? There is no stronger element in the human psyche other than that of devotion. These people believed Koresh was the Lamb of God, the Messiah, the Christ. The government knew they believed this. In trying to subvert Koresh’s authority, they were also trying to destroy the faith and lifestyle of people who devoted all of themselves to Koresh’s teaching. There is no way this event could have been solved with any amount of violence or the possibility of it. Even today, there are still Branch Davidians out there that are waiting for their Messiah to come back and rescue them. They are still (if not moreso) firmly committed to Koresh’s teachings. Why? Because the persecution spoken of in Revelation is something they truly believed happened to them. In undergoing “persecution” and enduring it, it is unlikely that a person would look back and change their minds, thinking instead that they (but more importantly their leader) caused this tragedy to take place. If they were to believe that all they endured was for nothing, it would shatter their understanding of God and their Messiah, Koresh. Gallegher and the stories of Waco survivors show just how dark life can get merely through one man who took a simple-minded narrow view of Scripture and twisted it to meet the desires of his own selfish and deceptive heart.
Moore looks at two aspects of Revelation he feels has been neglected by previous commentators: the animality of Christ and the huge, fairly desolate New Jerusalem. Largely basing his examination around Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign, Moore explores the similar, yet contrasting natures of the Lamb and the Beast. Bestiality’s traditional association with political despotism, on one level, explains why John personified the Roman empire as an animal-like figure. But, it also raises the question, why is the Lamb, simultaneously an animal and symbol of the divine, assigned to embody Christ? Moore draws on Derrida to conclude that Revelation presents a hybrid view of animality. The two beasts, divine and evil, behave as humans expect animals to behave- by remaining mute. However, they both carry significant metaphorical connotations (the Beast as absolute evil and the Lamb as absolute divinity), illustrating Revelation’s dual view of animality.
Moore then addresses other instances of evil and divinity in Revelation that are directly related to the respective beasts. Human savagery is simultaneously present in the Beast and the personification of Babylon, who physically rides on the Beast’s back. Both figures are closely connected, almost morphing into one evil being. The Lamb also corresponds with a human figure. The virtuous woman is closely related to the divine animal. However, her connection runs deeper, as she is referred to as the bride of the Lamb. Moore points out that Revelation transforms the bride into the New Jerusalem, equating the good woman with the good city and the good woman with the good people of God. However, Moore questions the “goodness” of the new city when it is described as essentially empty, with the exception of the river, the tree of life, and the Lamb. Again, he states that while eco-commentators have addressed the river and the tree in the walls of the city, they have rarely tackled the unfathomable size of the New Jerusalem. Moore admits that the sheer size is used to convey power, authority, and sovereignty, but the description presents a dystopian environment devoid of life, similar to a dead megamall. And the Lamb, as the sole living creature within the dead environment, is again part of the duality (or contradiction) of Revelation. Questioning the place of animals in the New Jerusalem, Moore metaphorically relates the unworthy humans to dogs, cast out of the city because of the dirtiness and base desires.
Moore concludes that the lone presence of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem signifies that humans now exist to serve animals, instead of the reverse that is often assumed by humans (especially those living today). Christ takes the throne in the heavenly city as an animal, the only form in which he is worshipped by humans, demonstrating that, in Revelation, the ultimate form of divinity is the animal Christ.
Stephen Moore reads Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign and The Animal That Therefore I am as “incisive if unintended” commentary on Revelation’s animality. In “Ecotherology” Moore explores the relationship between animals in Revelation and animals in today’s “apocalyptically theriocidal world (227).”
Revelation’s beast is typically understood as a metaphor for imperial Rome and/or it’s emperors; Derrida’s finding that sovereignty is often represented through animal monstrosity (much like the beast from Revelation) supports this interpretation. The beast qualifies as a monster because it does not respect the divisions between species: it is a composite creature of leopard, lion, and bear. This monster, or beast, is an appropriate symbol for the Roman Empire (and/or its emperors) because both are outside the law. A sovereign not only makes laws but also has the power to break them—much like a wild beast that does not respect law and order. Yet, as Moore points out, Revelation’s author similarly represents divine power in the guise of an animal (the Lamb). God, as divine sovereign, and Jesus as his agent, are outside the law—including their own law of “Thou shalt not kill.” For those who do not number among the faithful (read: those who do not accept God’s absolute sovereignty), God and the lamb are monsters who bestow upon them vengeance and destruction. In this way Revelation reinscribes imperial power while simultaneously critiquing it.
Two kinds of animals are represented in Revelation: the domestic (the lamb) and the wild (the beast). This dichotomy is reflected in the two women represented in Revelation: the bride and the whore. The whore is bloodthirsty and savage like a predatory animal, whereas the bride’s virtue aligns her with the Lamb. Both the bride and the Lamb are docile, domesticated figures who simultaneously (and paradoxically) represent absolute domination; thus Revelation replicates imperial Rome’s hegemonic structure at the same time it offers a nonhegemonic alternative through the interspecies intimacy of the bride and Lamb.
Personified by the bride, the new Jerusalem is a city constructed around the needs of humans and as such represents a domesticated version of nature—much like modern high-end shopping malls. The city is an “anthropocentering of nature (237).” The new city of Jerusalem is sovereign not just as the seat of a divine ruler but because of its enormous size—excess being, according to Derrida, one of the intrinsic qualities of sovereignty. Moore finds the new Jerusalem to be ill-designed as a prophetic counterexample to the anthropocentrism of empire because it exhibits eerie similarity to the megamalls of today. There does seem to be hope for the formation of a positive, constructive ecotherology in Moore’s reading of Revelation; though the city is anthropocentric in design, its emblematic animal, the Lamb, defies that reading in that it holds dominion over all humans. In Revelation, Jesus is most powerful in animal form—it is the only form in which he is worshipped, and it is as a theriomorph that he is enthroned in the heavenly kingdom.
Moore’s exploration of the “interspecies intimacies” raises some interesting questions. It is obvious in reading Revelation that the relationship between the beast and the whore is a satirical caricature of the imperial power of Rome. Even Moore admits that “bestiality has always been a convenient figure for political despotism” (230), so it makes sense to use these images to condemn the sovereignty of Rome. By using a wild beast, John invokes the savagery of the animal kingdom, yet cruelty is a human quality. The whore riding abreast the beast is savage and cruel, evil and lustful, and so the imagery makes sense in this context. However, what is not apparently clear is why John would then keep with the same trope to illustrate the proper sovereignty of God the Father by creating another interspecies relationship with the Lamb and the bride? The answer to this question takes us back to the Quadrapedal Christ, where the Lamb is both dominated and dominant. Indeed, More states that the Lamb is a “nonhegemonic symbol for a hegemonic entity” (234). Hegemony is the term used to describe the masculine dominance over feminine submission. By describing him in this way, Moore sees the Lamb as a domesticated animal, pure and innocent, thus the perfect sacrifice, yet at the same time He is the warrior sovereign, the dominant (masculine) bridegroom. The (feminine) bride, like the domesticated Lamb, is silent and docile, so now we can see the contrast to the beast-whore intimacy more clearly. The wild, undomesticated, fornicating beast has no place in the New Jerusalem.
I admit that Moore’s articles perpetually perplex me. He is not as clear to his point as he could be and I feel like he writes in circles and meanders on tangents. I don’t know how to answer the question of “ecotherology” because, honestly, I barely understood what I wrote above and I even feel that I probably was entirely off base with it.