Letter from America, part one
Our cancerous industrialism, reducing all ideological differences to epiphenomena, has generated its own breed of witch doctor. These are men with a genius for control and organization, and the lust to administrate. They propose first to shrink our world to the dimensions of a global village, over which some technological crackpot will erect a geodesic dome to regulate air and light; at the same time the planetary superintendent of schools will feed our children via endless belt into reinforcement-trained boxes where they will be conditioned for their functions in the anthill arcology of the future. The ideal robot, after all, is simply a properly processed human being.
- Edward Abbey, ‘Shadows from the Big Woods’
I’ve been roaming America for the last two weeks and I’m going to be roaming it for nearly a week more. This last week was unplanned, but due to the kind of medical emergency that, at least in my family, only seems to crop up on visits to remote places, I will be stranded here until late next week. We are all fine now, thankfully, and I am reflecting on the fact that if you’re going to be stranded, then the mountains of Montana are not a bad place to be stranded in.
So here I am, holed up in American’s Mountain West with my family, reading Edward Abbey and Ohiyesa, eating the occasional strip of fried elk, meeting new people and generally imbibing the spirit of the place - a place I’ve never been before, but which I intend to visit again if I can. There’s something out here I find deeply attractive. Some pull.
I came to the US to give some talks and attend a couple of events. Two of the talks were filmed, and I’m going to share those films, with some reflections, in two separate posts over the next week, of which this is the first.
I mentioned that I’d been reading Edward Abbey. This is a thing which everyone should do at some point in their lives, not least because there are so few writers like him around now. Probably there never were. Abbey was a bloody-minded body of contradictory impulses, of which two in particular stand out: a contempt for power structures, and a love of wild places. To Abbey, these impulses were much the same thing. As the quote above indicates, he knew that once power was seized by the handmaidens of the Machine (a word he used almost as much as I do) it would be used to eliminate nature, both human and wild, in the name of Progress. So it goes, and so it went.
I’ve been dipping into Abbey on and off over the years without ever having properly visited the place - the American West - which he made his home, and which his writings orientated around. Now that I’m here, I can see him and his concerns more clearly. And I’ve met plenty of people in the last few weeks who share them.
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