April 05, 2008

Nature Writing, Environmental Justice, and Lefty Prejudice

Peculiar links to a review essay on nature reading that I had also skimmed at the Bodios' last week.

Author John Derbyshire is better known as a political writer, and he hits Lefty enviros pretty hard. But he likes Steve Bodio's work:

The Left survives and flourishes because, as well as there being plenty of people whose satisfaction in life is to boss others around, there are even more who are willing to be bossed. Those who are not so willing — persons of a prickly-libertarian temperament — often head out to the wild places, to end up as lovers of the raw creation. There is, too, that aspect of the conservative temperament that abhors sentimentality and wishful thinking, and greets with happy recognition the cycles of death and mayhem that comprise most of the natural world's activity. I am thinking here, in both cases, of the Western writer Stephen J. Bodio, whose 1998 memoir On the Edge of the Wild offers an eloquent hunter's perspective on nature.

And Barry Lopez's too. (I would have to go to the mat with Derbyshire over his judgment on Gary Snyder.)

Even more, however, I recommend Rebecca Solnit's piece in the latest Orion titled "One Nation Under Elvis".

Solnit, one of the nation's best nature-and-culture writers, I am coming to think, speaks of her own move away from unthinking Lefty bigotry:

I grew up surrounded by liberals and leftists who liked to play the idiot in fake southern accents, make jokes about white trash and trailer trash, and, like the Canadian enviros, made gagging noises whenever they heard Dolly Parton or anything like her. If Okies from Muskogee thought they were being mocked, they were right, in part.

Her point is that the mindless partisanship of both Right and Left does environmentalism no good:

Right-wing politicians may serve the super-rich with tax cuts and deregulation and privatization galore, but they also dress up expertly in a heartland all-Americanism that has, at least until Bush’s plummeting popularity, allowed a lot of rural Americans to see them as allies rather than opponents. The right has also done a superb job of portraying the left as elite and hostile to working-class interests, and the class war going on inside and outside leftist and environmentalist circles did this propaganda battle a great service. The result of all this has been a marginalized environmental movement—more specifically, an environmental movement that has alienated the people who often live closest to “the environment.”

Even the "environmental justice" people seem blind to poor white people, she suggests, because they still carry around mental cartoons from the civil-rights era. She suggests, instead, that

The anti-environmentalist right has shot itself in both feet in the past few years, losing credibility and constituency, and a smart and fast-moving left could make hay out of this, to mix a few fairly rural metaphors. It would mean giving up vindication for victory—that is, giving up on triumphing over the wickedness of one’s enemies and looking at them as unrecruited allies instead.

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