In the ongoing process of writing my crackpot manifesto, The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life, I have a lot of thoughts that spin off in directions that probably won’t make it into the book - at least not directly. This essay falls into that category. Written the day after the Hammond Brothers were pardoned for having torched 140 acres of Oregon public land in an act of arson to cover up poaching they’d committed on that land, it's written in honor of Scott Pruitt's resignation.
Since November of 2016, America has been collectively flailing around trying to figure out what the hell is going on. And in my reading of the posts on my Facebook wall, there have been at least three predominant narratives circulating.
The first is the narrative of Trump supporters themselves, and the story they tell is that DJT is essentially a messianic figure. A long awaited political outsider who is shaking up Washington and re-establishing America’s political strength, and correcting the wrongs of a decadent progressive class that’s been eroding old fashioned American Christian values.
The second is the predominant narrative of the white moderate - whether they’re Democrat or Republican, it’s actually pretty similar. What’s happening at the highest levels of government is “not who we are”. It’s a series of almost unbelievable violations of American values that are pointing us towards a political apocalypse of historic proportions. Trump's an existential threat without analogue in American history.
And the third is the narrative that people of color and immigrants seem to generally be stating: Yep. This is the same shit, different day. The weepy head of the abscess is as ugly as it’s been in a long time, sure, but America is suffering from the same infection it’s had since its inception. Rich white people and the masses that enthusiastically guzzle the snake oil they sell them are stomping on everyone else’s neck so they can get more for themselves and protect their own. Grinding bones - preferably those covered in dark flesh - to make their bread.
While I’m entirely prone to hysterics myself, it really does seem like the third narrative is the only plausible one.
It doesn’t seem likely that this particular narcissistic rich white guy who’s spent his life exploiting, well, pretty much everyone, is going to be the savior even white conservatives are looking for (unless they’re conservatives in the 1%). And he's made it abundantly clear that he hates the rest of us, so we can probably rule out America Being Made Great Again for the plurality that voted against him or the 60 - 70% who consistently report that they disprove of his performance.
And the idea that some great holy American nation is crashing down around us seems a little ridiculous as well. Not because the terrible stuff we’re all freaking out about isn’t actually happening, and escalating - but because, let's be real, that America never existed beyond romantic ideology. White moderates may have constructed a just nation and a beacon of freedom in their minds, but there’s plenty of video evidence that innocent black children were being killed with impunity well before 11/16, ICE was raiding homes in record numbers under the Obama administration, and that Japanese grandma that lives down the road knows all about being shoved into a cage by the American government. When your worldview collapses, it feels like an apocalypse, but the better analogy for what's happening might be a slow, forced awakening of oblivious masses.
But the idea that America is a place where white people assert their power politically in both overt and covert ways, and where people of color, non-Christians and immigrants make easy targets whenever things go wrong? Seems consistent with everything else that’s happened in American history. And that those with the opportunity use political power to rile up and manipulate entirely willing poor whites with moralizing, dog whistles, violence, and empty promises while accumulating massive amounts of wealth at their expense? Even if you aren't the least bit cynical, it's the predominant story of the ‘20s and the ‘60s and the ‘80s at the very least.
So yeah, black people, immigrants and queers are right. Same shit, different day (even if they've added a megaphone and taken off the muzzle) is a much more plausible interpretation of current events than messianic fervor or apocalyptic terror.
What’s this got to do with dirtbags?
When you start assessing the situation through that lens, you recognize that the same trends are present in the various outdoors communities.
On one hand, there are voices arguing that government restrictions of the use of public lands has been destroying the livelihoods of hardworking Americans - the coal miners and the loggers and the ranchers and the fishermen are disappearing because of the heavy-handed and ridiculous government restrictions that prioritize spotted owls over human beings. The Hammond's were populist heroes and deregulation is about freedom.
On the other, it's easy for people like me to feel that the Trump administration is destroying an American tradition of conservation that makes the West what it is, and that public lands that American ecosystems - including human ones - rely upon for survival are under unprecedented threat. That the Trumpocalypse is worse than any catastrophe before it.
But while it’s true that the people in charge are terrible right now, reading history, it’s hard to feel that what’s happening is particularly novel. Whatever Scott Pruitt and whoever the climate skeptic coal lobbyist that’s replacing him are, they aren’t political innovators. Ed Abbey was freaked out about Arches getting paved when Moab was a backwater, and Lake Powell was Glen Canyon when he was contemplating blowing up dams. And Pete Seeger was singing about businesses pumping sewage into the Hudson in 1982.
So the bastards are drilling for oil in Bears Ears while pardoning domestic terrorists for burning down public lands in the name of “freedom”, but don’t give them too many points for creativity.
Same struggle, different day.
To bring Abbey up again, I can’t figure out when he said this, but he died in 1989, so it wasn’t yesterday.
"The most common form of terrorism in the U.S.A. is that carried on by bulldozers and chainsaws. It is not enough to understand the natural world; the point is to defend and preserve it. Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul."
In a lot of ways it’s effing depressing that we’re fighting the same battles that Abbey was in the '60s.
But in other ways it’s reassuring, because it makes sense of things. We’re not facing anything new.
Those of us pushing for the preservation of wilderness aren’t struggling against some kind of Independence Day aliens that we know nothing about. We’re fighting the same tide that’s been coming in four times a day since the invention of soil exhaustion.
And the dirtbag’s role in the struggle isn’t anything it hasn’t been before. Use Twitter to organize and all that. Recognize the struggle is intersectional with every other struggle for humanity and justice in the face of exploitation and shortsighted selfish interest. But the fight’s essentially the same. So reread the Monkey Wrench Gang, throw a fresh coat of paint on the Rainbow Warrior, and chain yourself to a cactus in Bears Ears, literally or figuratively.
And don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Big shout out here to the people in our orbit doing more than just writing blog posts: Among many others, go support our friends at Oregon Wild who are working to prevent Cascade-Siskiyou from becoming the next Bears ears, and proactively pushing for more protection around Crater Lake. And our friend Ken Campbell and the Ikkatsu Project working to clean plastic out of Puget Sound and the Pacific through direct action and education. And Erica Prather keeping the spirit alive through Rocky Mountain Wild, the Sacred Rage podcast, and taking Cardboard Donnie to see what he’s missing firsthand.
For updates on The Dirtbag’s Guide to Life as it develops, click here.
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Tim and Angel
The goat in the picture lives in Silverton, CO, and tried to kill us. We survived to bring you this dirtbag wisdom for the ages.