On monkey wrenching

Posted by Ken Campbell December 2, 2012 1 Comment 2136 views
I just finished reading The Monkey Wrench Gang for the 50th time. (OK, maybe not the 50th time, but it has to be somewhere up there.) I get something different out of that old diatribe every time I pick it up. Edward Abbey was a unique writer and when I listen to the way he talked about the desert southwest, I can feel the love mixed in with all the indignation and righteous anger. 
Now, however, almost 40 years after Abbey wrote the book, there is an element of generational dissonance in some of the settings and concepts. The words are still excellent, but it is strange to think of the kind of “work” the four outlaws did from today’s perspective. No internet, no cell phones… communication seems like it was so slow. And where are the cameras. The idea of cheap, omnipresent security cameras didn’t really exist back in the 70’s. These days, they are everywhere… it’s not uncommon to go into a convenience store and see a half-dozen of the invasive, glass bubbles recording our every move. The gang didn’t have to deal with them; they didn’t even exist yet.
There’s probably more than that… I think that the notion of construction equipment being left out and unprotected is probably a thing of the past too. We have security guards in itchy polyester and tin badges everywhere now. Makes it more difficult to loosen the plug on the oil pan of a D-9 Cat or pour Karo syrup into a crank case. And, if you ever did get the chance to be chased by the law after pushing a grader into a lake or blowing up a rail line, it’s doubtful that your pursuers would be from the volunteer search and rescue squad… the powers-that-be have gotten a lot more serious, and painfully professional, than that.
And I think we’re softer now. (This is something that just occurred to me and I may be off-base. But I bet I’m not.) We don’t like real violence, even against machines. It’s not safe, and we are addicted to safety. We look vainly for consensus, wringing our hands when the other side doesn’t want to play nice, rather than trying to wring their necks. We get our violence in video games, where we can kill virtual people, blow up virtual buildings, and commit all kinds of virtual atrocities, racking up points as we do so. We look to football and politics for our conflict… safe, vicarious methods of venting our anger, without any real consequences. Or meaningful experiences.
Sorry. I guess reading Abbey is all it takes to get me writing a screed of my own. If you’ve read him, you know what I mean. If not, I recommend you start. (Actually, I think Desert Solitaire is his best work, but you could start with almost any of them.) I’ll let the old buzzard speak for himself on his way out:

Today the old North Wash trail road is partly submerged by the reservoir, the rest obliterated. The state has ripped and blasted and laid an asphalt highway through and around the area to link the new tin bridges with the outside world. The river is gone, the ferry is gone, Dandy Crossing is gone. Most of the formerly primitive road from Blanding west has been improved beyond recognition. All of this, the engineers and politicians and bankers will tell you, makes the region easily accessible to everybody, no matter how fat, feeble or flaccid. That is a lie.
It is a lie. For those who go there now, smooth, comfortable, quick and easy, sliding through as slick as grease, will never be able to see what we saw. They will never feel what we felt. They will never know what we knew, or understand what we cannot forget.
– Edward Abbey, How it was

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