“Forget Shorter Showers” By Derrick Jensen Critical Thinking Examples
Philosophy Final Project:
Orion Magazine is a magazine with the motto, “Nature. Culture. Place.” This ethos is evident through much of the articles that are published, and this is again true of Derrick Jensen’s article, “Forget Shorter Showers.” In the article, Jensen takes a hard line approach against perceived “environmentalism.” His basic premise argues against making individual change and environmental living a political act because it doesn’t affect change. However, within the article he does into much deeper detail forming many important and effective arguments. The main conclusion he makes is that personal change is not enough; instead, we must confront the infrastructure that is truly responsible for killing the planet. His article is effective because it has a logical foundation. He supports his argument from various angles (i.e. water, energy, waste, etc.) and this furthers strengthens his argument. However, his diction is often loaded and shows his bias, regardless of the importance of his argument. Still, the article succeeds overall, especially considering the audience that the article is aimed at (those who perhaps do feel strongly about the environment but only show this through personal change).
This project aims to analyze the four most important arguments within the article:
People are dying because water is being stolen.
Premise 1: People are dying from lack of water.
Premise 2: Industry and agriculture use 90% of water.
Premise 3: Humans and municipalities use 10% of water.
False conclusion: I can save people who are dying from lack of water through shorter showers.
Conclusion: People are dying because the water is being stolen.
This first argument is stated by Jensen as “People aren’t dying because the world is running out of water. They’re dying because the water is being stolen” (par. 3). He supports this argument by comparing the use of water by humans and municipalities to the use by agriculture and industry (90% to 10%). This particular argument uses inductive reasoning. Jensen builds to his conclusion after presenting the premises regarding water use. Premise 1: People are dying from lack of water. Premise 2: 90% of this water is being used by industry and agriculture. Premise 3: I can fix the problem if I take shorter showers. Conclusion: People are dying not because of personal use, but because of industry. This inductive reasoning has high probability, but the way in which it is presented is somewhat troublesome because of the conclusion and the wording of that conclusion: “stolen” is a loaded and ambiguous term that must be defined.
We can’t affect social change through changing our daily habits.
Premise 1 (A): Our individual impact on the environment is very small.
Premise 2 (B): Social change requires big influences.
Conclusion (Q): The small impact of our personal changes is not enough.
This argument takes up the majority of the article, and Jensen tackles it from various different angles, but the same conclusion is drawn. Changing our daily habits just isn’t enough. Jensen writes, “Personal change doesn’t equal social change” (par. 6). Here again Jensen uses inductive reasoning and to great effect. The probability of the conclusion is high as he outlines the premises that are supported by logical reasoning and facts. These premises seem to hold up. However, the argument might be too limiting regarding this either/or definition of personal change in terms of environmental awareness are being only valuable to social change, but he does outline these specific premises so the conclusion is probable. What follows is a truth table:
Conclusion = 1 AND 2 or Q A ^ B or not(Q)not(A ^ B)
A refers to premise 1: “Our individual impact on the environment is very small.”
B refers to premise 2: “Social change requires big influences.”
Q refers to the conclusion: “The small impact of our personal changes is not enough.”
^ refers to “and”: premise A ‘AND’ premise B
‘not’ refers to the opposite: ‘NOT’ premise A ‘AND’ premise B
Simple living as a political act creates four problems: i.) ineffective at creating change; ii.) assigns wrong blame; iii.) redefines citizen as “consumer”; iv.) endpoint is suicide if following the logic.
General Statement: Simple living is actually harmful towards the cause.
Evidence 1 (A): It doesn’t work to create social change
Evidence 2 (B): It puts blame on the wrong people (misdirection)
Evidence 3 (C): Simple living becomes to consume or not to consume, which is limiting as to possibilities.
Evidence 4 (D): As long as we participate in the system (even if we live simply), we also bring on destruction so suicide is the only way to negate personal destruction of the planet.
Jensen states, “Besides being ineffective at causing the sorts of changes necessary to stop this culture from killing the planet, there are at least four other problems with perceiving simple living as a political act (as opposed to living simply because that’s what you want to do)” (par. 8), and his argument uses deductive reasoning in order to reach the conclusion (Q) that using simple living as a political act is more harmful than helpful. The issue is a systemic one. According to the evidence laid out, this appears to be a valid claim. If the premises are true, the conclusion works out. However, not all of the premises appear true, particularly the 4th premise that suicide is the logical end of that argument. This appears to be more “slippery slope” than anything else. However, the other three premises seem to hold up.
Activism means to take down the system with action.
General Statement: Activism needs to be redefined.
Evidence 1: Activism is not “navigating systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible.
Evidence 2: Activism is “confronting and taking down those systems.”
Conclusion (implied): The role of activists needs to change.
Jensen writes, “The role of the activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems” (par. 12). Again, he uses inductive reasoning here by laying out a general statement and working through the “evidence.” His argument is one of definition, which is inherently one of debate, but according to his premises, the conclusion is valid. “Is this” versus “is not this” is a solid argument as long as the premises are true, which, as Jensen sets them up are true (even though subjective).
As mentioned above, there are a few fallacies within Jensen’s arguments, which there are likely to be in any hard-line approach. The most striking fallacy is the “slippery slope” worked into the third argument. Taking the argument to the nth degree does nothing more than lend an absurdity to the argument. The logical end of that argument is not suicide. It is changing the definition of activism. There is also evidence of a “false dilemma” fallacy in argument three. The categorization of an individual by either consuming or not-consuming is to limit the possibilities of our role in the system. However, other sides are not presented. There is slight evidence of ad hominem in the first argument as well because even though the argument doesn’t personally attack any particular person, it does attack the system through biased language. This could also be considered a “straw man” because the issue of “theft” is introduced, but the main issue of that argument is that people are dying from lack of water. However, there are some valid arguments within the article.
Derrick Jensen’s article is part of a column titled “Upping the Stakes,” and predominantly relies on logic and reasoning, although he does incorporate sources from time to time. In this article, he references numerous statistics but without providing the source. Because he seems knowledgeable about the topic and appears to have the information, we don’t question the validity of those statistics. It makes logical sense that human consumption is but a fraction of what the “system” uses of resources. Jensen does, however, reference one specific source: Kirkpatrick Sale. This is an authoritative source, but he is renowned for his strong leftist viewpoints, so his credibility is to be taken with a grain of salt. Jensen relies on specific quotes from Kirkpatrick, and this does lend credence to the claims that he is making. Still, it is a very one-sided argument as Kirkpatrick Sale is the only source referenced.
The ideology of author is perhaps best captured by his source, Kirkpatrick Sale. This is his one appeal to authority, and it appears they share a very similar value system. It appears Jensen represents an environmentalist ideology due to the publication and readership of Orion Magazine. Plus, the content of his article only further establishes his environmental viewpoints that the earth is sacred and humanity has a responsibility to care for it. Kirkpatrick Sale also appears to represent this ideology, but his even farther towards the left as a political ideology. He has been identified to represent an ideology of decentralism, which as much can be said about Jensen from looking into this article. Jensen’s argument is clear: activism requires confrontation and taking down the systems. He says as much in the article, which is quite an explicit statement of decentralism. He is against industry and the government systems in place because they only further tax the land and are leading the world towards destruction. This is evident from his article. This viewpoint does benefit a social group, which would be the environmentalists and leftist supporters. However, it doesn’t necessarily misrepresent reality. It certainly uses the common fallacy of “scare tactics” to emphasize the impending doom of the earth, but this is a very real reality. And Jensen’s argument is that we continue to abide by the rules of government that are ushering in this destruction so we are complicit in the crime. Perhaps the issue is not as stark as Jensen insinuates, and he doesn’t quite breach all of the possibilities, but the danger is very real. Still, that ideology is very present and seems to pervade throughout the article and in the tone of the piece.
Orion Magazine does a lot to build awareness about environmental concerns, oftentimes in a subtle, non-confrontational manner. Derrick Jensen’s piece, “Forget Shorter Showers,” strays from this approach but still to great effect. He introduces some valid arguments, and although they aren’t all absent of fallacies and pervading ideologies, the truth is present: the earth is in danger and that most certainly must be confronted.
Jensen, Derrick. “Forget Shorter Showers.” Orion Magazine. Orionmagazine.org, 7 July 2009. Web. 10 March 2015.
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