A Surfeit Of Piety

Commies, Conservatives, And Trash On The Trail

I'm trying to figure out environmentalism and why everyone hollers about it. I'm having a hard time.

My own environmental prejudices: I like back-country camping. I don't see the advantage in having a trail covered with beer cans and styrofoam. Maybe there is a benefit, and I'm just slow, and don't understand. But I don't want to look at the stuff. Nor do I want a four-lane highway through the Grand Canyon, five malls, and a gooberish theme park. I'm sorry. I'm just primitive that way.

Scuba diving is a hobby of mine. Maybe I'm selfish. I don't want the fish coated with industrial waste, or the mangroves, where things breed, turned into yuppie boxes by some real-estate developer who wants another Cadillac. We've got enough yuppies. I say poison them to make room for mangroves.

I grew up on the Potomac River, where people crabbed for a living until sewage from Washington killed the crabs. Environmentalists pushed through a treatment plant and it got better. I'm trying hard to see why this was unpatriotic. I figure that if conservatives want to swim in Washington's sewage, they're stranger than I thought, but it's their business. They can put it in their swimming pools. If they live upstream and want to make me swim in it, I need to talk to them with a ball bat.

So I guess I'm a radical green, and worse than Bin Laden.

Actually, the whole debate is rife with fraud. To begin with, everyone thinks that the dispute is an ideological war between liberalism and conservatism. Why? In Russia, it was the communists who fouled their country. Apparently about half of Russia is radioactive now, and the rest poisonous. In America, it's the capitalists who act like communists.

Both camps occupy the moral sump. The moral difference between Left and Right, capitalism and communism, is zero. Capitalism is far more economically efficient, but just as willing to run sweatshops, pollute the rivers, make the air noxious, and profess the highest ideals while doing it.

Ideologies are of course just systematic ways of misunderstanding the world. They are the province of herd thinkers, people who have the answer before they've heard the question, and they always have the same answer. The more ardently liberal or conservative they are, the worse they are. Serious ones get bitter and start lying without even knowing it, mostly to themselves.

Environmentally, both Left and Right believe in virtue, but only when it suits them. If I suggest that maybe we don't really need to clearcut the redwoods to make decks for liberal yups that conservatives hate anyway, I get told that people need jobs. But isn't that an argument for expanding the federal bureaucracy? People need jobs?

Like communists, capitalists express concern for the working class-when it is convenient. For example, when it comes to replacing workers with automation, then, what do you know, suddenly efficiency is more important than jobs. Principle and profit always coincide. Isn't it remarkable?

Why do conservatives want to turn the country into an industrial desert? They don't, of course. By no means all conservatives favor irresponsible exploitation, any more than all liberals want to make us into robots. The problem is that the worst of both camps are noisiest and most angry, and therefore shape policy.

Here you have to understand one of the (few) fundamental differences between the far Left and far Right. The Left wants to maximize governmental power so that it can misbehave, usually by imposing some form of tyrannous conformity that everyone hates but can't do anything about.

The Right wants to minimize governmental power so as to avoid restraint on misbehavior, which usually involves any profitable abuse of anything. Both want to behave badly. They just go at it differently. The Left likes group misbehavior. The Right prefers to free-lance.

A highly explanatory element of angry anti-environmentalism is, I think, a lack of aesthetic sensitivity. There are people who simply cannot tell that the Grand Canyon is a lovely thing that should not be made into a landfill. They may say that it's beautiful ("Huh? Oh yeah. Real nice.") because they know this to be the expected response.

But they have no more real appreciation than a congenitally deaf man does for music. They honestly don't understand why anyone is upset. I'll bet that if you went to their homes, you would not find one decent picture on their walls that they chose themselves.

These people are just louts. Neither Left nor Right has a monopoly on loutishness.

Finally, there is sheer embittered combativeness. The politically excited often do not greatly care about the things they say they care about. They just want to fight.

For example, during the Cold War conservatives didn't hate communists, who wore baggy pants and couldn't organize a sock hop. Instead they hated liberals, communism being little more than a pretext. Similarly liberals do not like blacks, whom they regard as shiftless mentally defective bushmen. If they did care about blacks, they would favor schooling, etc. They hate conservatives, and find blacks to be a useful mallet.

Often, politics isn't about anything. It's just politics. Putting it less cutely, the joy of embitterment outweighs desire for content. In the 1930s Hitler discovered that it was much easier to convert a communalist to Nazism than a contented burger. Catholics have likewise found that atheists make easier and more enthusiastic converts that do agnostics. Zealots want enemies, allies, and simple answers. They don't care which enemies, allies, etc.

Thus many conservatives on examination turn out to have little interest in the environment. They hate environmentalists. Hating environmentalists is easy. Often the greens are tiresome zealots with a preening immature snottiness that recommends strangling.

In environmental politics as elsewhere, Left and Right need each other. Conservatives create much of the support for environmentalism by their hard-eyed rapacity. Environmentalists create much of the hostility to their cause by their unreasoning extremism. Neither sees or wants to see a middle ground.

For example it is perfectly possible to drill for oil without trashing the surroundings, build a pipeline that has no ill effects, and tear it all down when the field is exhausted. Both sides will fight to the death to avoid any such commonsensical solution.

It's depressing. Sometimes conservatives seem as amoral as liberals seem immoral. The Left wants to degrade education, reward incompetence, and eliminate personal freedom. The Right would have us live in a mall-ridden, strip-mined wasteland. How, oh how, can I express my gratitude?