It began as a “human-wildlife” google update. The alert came from the website ecorazzi, titled “Eco-Terrorist May Be Behind Discovery Channel Hostage Situation.” Initially, I dismissed the update because “eco-terrorist” was in the title. How could I expect for the news, let alone the commentary, to be worthwhile and holistic if it’s referring to someone as a terrorist? It’s a very loaded term nowadays, as fear-inducing and misconstrued as “communist” or “nazi.” Plus, I thought it was strange that “eco-terrorist” would be mentioned in the same context as “human-wildlife.” Not that it’s unusual or the terms are incompatible, but rather it was the first time I saw the two in the same context.
After disregarding the ecorazzi article, about thirty minutes later, I sign on to facebook and one of my friends posted a link about the story on my wall. This story from cbsnews focuses instead on the influence of Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael on the activist’s anti-civilization zeal. A few minutes later, I receive two more emails from google updates. They come to me through the search terms “human-wildlife” and “foraging,” respectfully.
Human-Wildlife. Discovery Channel Hostage Situation. Ishmael. Foraging. Anti-Civilization. All of these ideas converge now and I suddenly become interested. I follow the story in the order I received the information.
The Man Demands to Be Heard
Approximately an hour ago, ecorazzi reports there is a hostage situation at the Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. A man called James Jay Lee entered the building with a handgun and explosives and insisted the Discovery Channel cover issues surrounding human overpopulation, which he believed is the root cause for global problems such as global warming, endangered species, and hunger:
The Discovery Channel and it’s affiliate channels MUST have daily television programs at prime time slots based on Daniel Quinn’s “My Ishmael” pages 207-212 where solutions to save the planet would be done in the same way as the Industrial Revolution was done, by people building on each other’s inventive ideas. Focus must be given on how people can live WITHOUT giving birth to more filthy human children since those new additions continue pollution and are pollution. A game show format contest would be in order. Perhaps also forums of leading scientists who understand and agree with the Malthus-Darwin science and the problem of human overpopulation. Do both. Do all until something WORKS and the natural world starts improving and human civilization building STOPS and is reversed! MAKE IT INTERESTING SO PEOPLE WATCH AND APPLY SOLUTIONS!!!!
Ecorazzi goes on to list James’ demands for a better broadcast and a better world. His demands revel on the responsibility of Discovery Channel to present media that encourage people to stop reproducing, stop immigration into the country (he didn’t specify which country but just implied immigration in general), stop relying so much on technology (especially to kill humans and destroy ecosystems), and stop converting land to agriculture and urbanity. He concludes with the following message:
Saving the environment and the remaning [sic] species diversity of the planet is now your mindset. Nothing is more important than saving them. The Lions, Tigers, Giraffes, Elephants, Froggies, Turtles, Apes, Raccoons, Beetles, Ants, Sharks, Bears, and, of course, the Squirrels.
The humans? The planet does not need humans.
You MUST KNOW the human population is behind all the pollution and problems in the world, and YET you encourage the exact opposite instead of discouraging human growth and procreation. Surely you MUST ALREADY KNOW this!
His demands reflect the extreme environmental story that subsides on self-loathing and absolutism. It necessitates that humans hate themselves and behave as though we neither belong on Earth nor deserve to be here; this is a relatively recent paradigm that has emerged in the European environmental consciousness, dating back unofficially to the time of John Muir, though it did not make fruition until Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. It is the mutually exclusive counterpart to the extreme dominion story of self-infatuation and absolutism that has dominated how Europeans live since they have organized in civilization. Ironically, Daniel Quinn describes both of these stories eloquently in his book Ishmael.
Needless to say, James Jay Lee’s passionate and feverish demands were not met. His efforts were doomed from the start. America, an already paranoid nation with a great disposition for profiling and persecuting difference, does not negotiate with “terrorists.” Especially “eco-terrorists.” Especially “terrorists” of color. People magazine reported that police gunned James down while taking him into custody and made mention of his previous arrest back in 2008, placing his psychological stability into suspect. The magazine also made sure to quote, of his many demands, his belief that Discovery Channel should take off the air shows that encourage “the birth of any more parasitic human infants.”
What the magazine fails to cover is the slight validity of James’ cries.
The Learning Channel, a Discovery Channel network, revolves around reality shows of childbirth and child-rearing, a theme it did not always cling to. And Animal Planet, a network once thought to bring legitimate voice to the lives and struggles of animals, thrives on spoof reality shows (though not predominately) and stereotypical animal representations. Discovery Channel is not the discovery it used to be. By discovery, it’s following the adventures of men and women whose living depends on exploiting living beings and living systems, without the balance of seeing those who don’t. That’s the reality of change in a financially-driven world. In this case, the change of the Discovery Networks. They are networks to find something new. There’s no guarantee it will be interesting, meaningful, or profound. Alas, James died in his misguided faith in the media.
The Fervent Merit of James Lee
With all the media coverage depicting him as a madman “terrorist” and given that I didn’t know him personally, I can only speculate where he expected his brief crusade to go. Fortunately, media sources quoted him directly, which gives us a taste of the man and his intention. His passion was ignited primarily through what I think was a spiritual collapse. The pain of living beings and living systems dying around him was too much to continually bear. Rather than softening and awakening from this heart-ache, he went crashing down like a demolished building and hardened (or remained hardened) as the bricks that fell. He dealt with the pain by blaming humans for everything that’s wrong in the world. He became enraptured in the idea that if humans, as we are now just faded away from existence that the aches and pains of the world would fade away too; he would no longer have to feel the sharp, trembling cries of beings in need.
In addition, rather than sitting helpless with the pain, he did something, albeit not constructive and not successful. He took action, convinced that he didn’t have to suffer the pain anymore if this particular media outlet, one that is influential in the depiction of animals and nature, encouraged the self-destruction of civilization. He was one of many ardent citizens who saw Daniel Quinn‘s teachings as a call to revolution through destroying civilization and vitalizing the process of re-wilding.
James Lee’s sad story is one of passion and desperation–so potent that it led him to hatred and violence. He’s not as different and isolated as some of us may want to believe. It could happen to any of us. Who can say how we ultimately unfold after years and years of suppressing our inherent empathy and emotional connectivity with each other, other living beings, and entities who comprise the world? Overwhelming pain can lead us to do anything…