am terminally sick of hypocrisy. My own and everyone else’s.
I don’t care which direction the entrenched ideological contradictions
are coming from–left or right, above or below–I long for
honesty and all things genuine and sincere, even if they are wrong-headed.
If you’re wrong-headed, or I am, then let’s be truthful
about it. That’s the beauty of honesty. Boneheads talking to
boneheads can reduce bone mass. As a self-confessed bonehead, I’m
searching for a different and better way to reduce the thickness of
my own skull, as well as yours.
I admit, Life was much easier when I viewed the world through a black & white
lens. And easier is the critical word to note here; it’s much
easier to condemn everyone else’s perspective when we’re
unwilling to honestly scrutinize our own. And it is easier to attack
our adversaries when we don’t know them. I have agonized over
this for years now. I have shared my feelings with my friends and with
strangers. Those feelings have been met in a variety of ways–blank
stares, outrage, ridicule, silence and sometimes...sometimes with the
look of a shared epiphany. "YES...I know exactly what you mean!" As
if someone with a secret had just found a kindred spirit.
Those moments have given me some comfort. Not much, but a little.
And so, it is truly, at long last, perhaps in the nick of time, and
perhaps too late to nick anything...it is time for M.A.H.B.U.
Mormons & Heathens for a Better Utah.
First, about the name. Not everyone on one side of the mythical ideological
fence is a member of the LDS Church. Not all people on the opposite
side are heathens. I was looking for an acronym, to begin with, and
one that might best suit Utahns. When I stumbled upon MAHBU it sounded
as if I’d morphed Nauvoo, the site of the original Mormon temple
in Illinois, with SUWA, Utah’s most prominent environmental group–surely
a frightening prospect for everyone involved regardless of their affiliation.
But then, that’s the point. To force everyone to be uncomfortable
with their proximity to each other, instead of exchanging pot shots
from the relative safety of across the fence.
At the heart of this war in the American West—and that’s
what we should call it—is a fundamental conflict of cultures
over the future of its landscape. The vast majority of Americans who
call themselves environmentalists, 78% in one survey, live in urban
areas. They are the "New Westerners." Their connection to
the land is mostly as observers, recreationists, and infrequent visitors.
Most of those who oppose the environmental movement actually live and
work in the small rural communities of the West and many of them make
their living from the land itself. They still represent the Old West.
For the urban enviros, there’s the rub.
What has ensued in the last three decades has been increasingly painful
to watch. Each side of the conflict has so savagely misrepresented
the other, so excessively caricatured their opponents, that they have,
in the process, turned themselves into pretty laughable cartoon characters
as well. There is nothing like bloated self-righteousness to make anyone
seem ridiculous; to me everybody looks goofy these days.
So what are the contentious issues driving this debate. Basically
it’s this: Rural Americans live in small towns and the core of
their economies is extractive–ranching, mining, timber. To deny
that the extractive industries have wreaked stunning and long-term
destruction upon the Western landscape and its ecology is absurd.
Urban Americans want to eliminate these industries, or at least curtail
them to a large extent. They believe that another kind of economy,
what environmentalists have called the "amenities economy"---tourism
mostly in all its forms--- is a clean and viable alternative to mining
and ranching and timber. They are convinced it can allow the rural
West to prosper and prevail, without further degradation to the resource.
To deny that this kind of transformation of the rural West has bleak
and destructive consequences of its own is equally absurd. The amenities
economy is just another extractive industry and should be regarded
by environmentalists with the same concern. But they don’t.
And so it’s a standoff. Nobody wants to be honest for 30 minutes.
And that is why MAHBU must step into the wide and yawning breach of
credibility. We are about to be painfully honest. Let us begin...NOW:
Most Old Westerners oppose wilderness, since they believe it will
limit their access to public lands. Sometimes their physical abuse
of the land itself is dramatic and the damage is long-term. On the
other hand, Old Westerners understand one key component of wilderness
far better than their adversaries. They understand solitude. Quiet.
Serenity. The emptiness of the rural West. They like the emptiness.
New Westerners are individually more sensitive to the resource but
are terrified of solitude. They’ll walk around cryptobiotic crust
but leave most of them alone in the canyons without a cell phone and
a group of companions and they’d be lost, both physically and
metaphysically. And since they need to travel in packs, the collective
resource damage is far more than they might realize.
Old Westerners like their jeeps and their ATVs. Among these thousands
of motorized recreationists are a minority of reckless and thoughtless
idiots who cause a disproportionate share of the resource damage. Many
of their peers know this and don’t like it, but don’t apply
peer pressure because the one thing they’d rather NOT do is be
seen agreeing with an environmentalist.
New Westerners drive hundreds or thousands of miles in gas-consuming
vehicles so they can peddle their bicycles for ten and say they’re
non-motorized recreationists. Bicyclists gather for rallies and races
just like their motorized cousins and cause extraordinary damage when
the numbers are high enough; yet environmentalists refuse to acknowledge
that many, many bicycles can sometimes cause as much damage as ATVs.
Old Westerners like cows. Millions of cattle still graze on public
lands and some ranchers who hold federal grazing allotments are terrible
stewards of that land. They allow overgrazing, destroy valuable and
rare riparian habitat and turn some public lands into barren wastelands.
New Westerners hate cows. They think all ranchers are bad stewards.
They want to eliminate all public lands grazing. But when they buy
a condo in a New West town, they love the view of the adjacent alfalfa
field from their picture window and complain bitterly when yet another
development wipes out the pastoral scene.
Cows eat alfalfa.
A few Old Westerners like to hunt. Mostly deer and elk. Each year
a few hundred hunters in Utah get a permit to kill a cougar. They chase
the big cat with their dogs, run it up a tree and shoot it. Sounds
pretty barbaric to me.
Most New Westerners hate to hunt. And they would never kill a cougar.
But when thousands of cougar-loving recreationists invade once empty
public lands that are habitat for wild animals (like cougars, deer
and elk), it is a hunt of sorts already–a hunt to eliminate the
habitat that wild and reclusive animals like cougars need. Conflict
is inevitable. Two mountain bikers were attacked and killed recently
by a cougar in wilderness near San Diego. The cougar was promptly tracked
down and shot by the authorities because the animal had become "a
problem." No objections were heard by New Westerners this time.
New Westerners build their homes farther into wildlands, so they can "live
amidst Nature," but when a bear pinches off the head of a favorite
French poodle, retribution is acceptable.
Most New Westerners long for the simple life and want to move to a
small town. But they hold the Old Westerners in low esteem and abhor
their politics. And when they move to a small town, they build an oversized
home, complain about the lack of amenities and try to change everything.
Most Old Westerners actually live the more modest and simple lifestyle
that their New West adversaries claim to admire. Their homes are smaller
and their cars are older. They recycle their junk (or at least don’t
throw it away) and generally do without a lot of luxuries that a New
Westerner could never endure. They despise the smug arrogance and urban
ways of their new New West neighbors. But if they had more money they
would probably live just as extravagantly.
New Westerners claim that the uncontrolled growth of the "amenities
economy" is out of their hands, that market forces and the whims
of American Culture are driving the New West, not them. As one Utah
environmentalist said defensively, "It would have happened anyway." In
effect they now refuse to take credit for the extraordinary "success" of
the very economy they claimed would save the West. They actually distance
themselves from the "solution" they continue to promote.
Every new convenience store, every condo development, every golf course,
every four star restaurant in a town with a population of 5000, even
every ATV rally is an extension of the "amenities economy."
Old Westerners long for the "good old days" of ranching
and mining, detest the tourists and the New West image of their towns,
but never hesitate to make a buck from the "amenities economy" when
the opportunity presents itself. Many Old Westerners are millionaires
today because land they bought for next to nothing in the 60s or 70s
is now worth a fortune.
Old Westerners love seismic exploration work. It brings money to the
rural economy. But it also leaves a swath of destruction in its path.
While restrictions have reduced the amount of damage that seismic work
once caused, its effects can still be seen years later. But once the
work is done, the land returns to "normal" as far as the
habitat goes. Wildlife is most adversely affected by constant human
intrusions. The one good aspect of a seismic crew is that when they
complete their work, they leave.
New Westerners hate seismic exploration. They often hold on-site protests
and to some animals, their long-term presence is more offensive than
the thumper trucks. The fact that desert bighorns have vanished from
the Gemini Bridges area near Moab is not because of the seismic work
that environmentalists fought in the early 90s; it’s from recreationists,
both motorized and non-motorized, that have driven them into hiding.
And, of course, many seismic trails never get a chance to recover because
bicyclists and ATVs keep using them.
Old Westerners are unlikely to go backpacking or exploring for the
sheer pleasure of it. Many of them would think such an effort to be
pure folly. Sometimes they seem oblivious to the Beauty that surrounds
them. But if they broke down or got stranded in the backcountry, they
would probably be able to take care of themselves, because most of
them have lived close to the land all their lives.
New Westerners love to go backpacking and exploring, but many of them,
urban dwellers mostly, simply don’t have the skills necessary
to survive, if something were to go wrong. As a result, the search
and rescue budgets of many rural Western communities have increased
astronomically in recent years. Most members of Search & Rescue
teams are Old Westerners.
The Bush Administration has taken unprecedented steps to increase
oil and gas development on public lands. Old Westerner advocates insist
increased production is absolutely necessary to reduce our dependence
on foreign oil. Many of those same people mock efforts to reduce U.S.
dependence through conservation efforts, which is really stupid. Why
would conservatives oppose conservation? Because they’re afraid
to be linked with anything remotely supporting an "environmentalist" perspective.
New Westerners oppose increased oil and gas exploration and advocate
conservation efforts; yet most of them are bigger consumers of natural
resources than the people who defend drilling in the public domain.
And while they decry the loss of wildlife habitat, the fact is, most
wildlife adapts quite well to inanimate objects, including oil wells.
It’s constant human intrusions that can critically disrupt their
Most Old Westerners love the owners and major stockholders and corporate
heads of oil and gas companies who are mostly rich, arrogant bastards
and personal friends of the Vice President. Most field employees of
oil and gas companies are hard-working middle-class Old Westerners,
trying to keep food on the table.
Most New Westerners despise the owners and stockholders and corporate
heads, not to mention the vice president. But they also detest the
field employees, which is about as wrong-headed as the Old Westerners’ admiration
of Dick Cheney.
Most Old Westerners hate Ed Abbey, who once said, " If America
could be, once again, a nation of self-reliant farmers, craftsmen,
hunters, ranchers and artists, then the rich would have little power
to dominate others. Neither to serve nor to rule. That was the American
Dream." Despite such sentiments, they still despise him, and they
stubbornly refuse to read his books.
Most New Westerners love Ed Abbey, even though they despise half of
the people Ed honored in the preceding quote. They’ve read all
his books and possess cherished signed copies, but understand far less
than they realize.
OK...my thirty minutes are up...for now. But I’ve barely scratched
the contentious surface. As long as Westerners, New and Old, refuse
to acknowledge the fruitlessness of their own entrenched and inflexible
positions, the West will suffer for our stubbornness.
This is not about compromise, it’s about dialogue. Discussion.
Ed Abbey once said, "What our perishing republic needs is something
different...something entirely different." He was absolutely right.
The system is not working for any of us anymore. I can no longer tell
the difference between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad
guys.’ It’s become a standoff between well-paid lobbyists—each
side trying to outspend the other in the quest for Influence and Power.
For MAHBU, this is either just the beginning of a new global force
akin to the "Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacree Movement," or
spit in a pond that never makes a ripple. All I can do is write this
I do not present this alternative way of thinking with a great deal
of hope or optimism. The Truth is generally used as a last resort,
and surely this is the case here. If these words strike a chord with
you, one way or the other, let me know. We invite your comments and
criticisms. If you’d like to be a "member," send me
an email c/o The Zephyr. Maybe I’ll start printing a Friends
of MAHBU list in future issues. Membership is free, although the price
one pays for being honest can be dear. I won’t send you a complimentary
backpack with your membership. Or a coffee mug. Or ask you to leave
MAHBU in your will. And I promise NEVER to offer "MAHBU Adventure
Tours." If that ever happens, you can kill me.