For Christmas, I received Desert Solitaire which is a tale of one man in the American West, specifically the desert region of southern Utah around Moab and the Arches National Park. Abbey writes beautifully of the desert and of the wilderness in general which he was afraid was becoming urbanized and lost. His tales of adventures like rafting down the Colorado river in two inflatable dinghies with a friend, sans any life jackets, just so they could see Glen Canyon before Lake Powell was built reminds me of John Graves Goodbye To A River which I read last year. The poignancy of Graves is contrasted with an almost militancy of Abbey who rails against the loss of a wilderness once haunted only by Native Americans and wildlife. Abbey’s works later became the basis for many environmental anarchists which is unsurprising. He quotes Bakunin, the great Russian anarchist, in one place in the book so I assume he must have read and probably approved of the philosophy in many ways. The intrusion of the state into what once was pristine wilderness was a theme of both Graves and Abbey, each in their own way. Bakunin wrote (slightly paraphrased) that “sometimes creation can only be achieved through destruction. Therefore, the passion for destruction is also a creative passion.”
On its face, this seems illogical but is in fact how the natural world and in theory the capitalistic world operates. Only through destruction of the weak as well as the unlucky can things evolve. The flash flood that roars down a dry arroyo sweeps away much but allows nature to regenerate and change in ways a central planner could never even conceive of. In the same way, when a business fails, it opens a hole in the ecosystem for a better or more appropriate business. Of course, the mule deer fawn unlucky enough to be born in that arroyo is destroyed as well when he cannot outrun the flood, a incident of bad luck unrelated to fitness. This is the concept that we as conscious feeling humans cannot bear. However, our inclination to save all things is carried to far when we save those things that are irreparable or fundamentally flawed. We “save” things that should be dead. This is evident in all aspects of our life from our artificial struggles to extend life at its boundaries, our bailing out of banks that should be tits up, our desire to keep wildfires from the forest and so many other examples. Our drive to protect from events like a flash flood or a forest fire or a global financial melt down causes us to only postpone and worsen the event when it happens. This is proven over and over again. This central planning eventually fails, in all cases. In theory, our federation of states protects us as a country from this but over time, our states have become more bureaucratic and our central government has become more powerful especially financially and militarily.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes of this failure in central planning a great deal in Antifragile. Bureaucracies are like black holes unfortunately, in that they eventually achieve their own gravity, sucking in the galaxies that surround them. Without constant involvement and care, our governments become larger and larger because people have a natural inclination to “do things” when oftentimes doing nothing would be the right choice. This makes me think of code and the effort required to keep it running and error free. As we become more distracted and riddled with our own problems, we do not have the capability to devote to keeping our civilization and government under control. In the same way that invariably we eventually throw something away and replace it with something new, our liberal democracy will eventually be thrown away because we did not invest the required effort to keep it running. This seems unlikely, possibly even impossible, in a country that has not had a revolution in 150 years. But it is the nature of the world and we are part of the world. Without regular care and pruning and hard choices that none of our current mass of politicians and their cushy jobs for life can manage, liberal democracy will go away. We see this happening at the edges now and ignore it at our peril.
As we continue to grow the throw away society that we currently operate under, it only becomes more and more ingrained that fixing things is an outdated idea for the dustbin of history. Already, self-reliance is almost unheard of (though in some urban settings there is a resurgence of things like gardens and chickens which is promising until the city you live in decides to outlaw the practices). Our debt fueled society and world is already beginning to groan under the weight as growth slows down. We tell kids to get a college education, any college education, at any cost, student loans can be worried about later and then wonder why they can’t spend money in our consumerist society even if they are lucky enough to get a job. We give people larger and larger portions of increasingly crappy food and wonder why we have a health crisis blowing up. We have a pill for everything, the easy way out instead of the hard way. Our lives of comfort leak into everything that affects us and we often unquestioningly choose that which is easy or that which seems protective, forgetting that it is through hardship and struggle and even destruction (or the removal of something) that causes growth.
Is all of this so much “Hey you kids get off my lawn!” or the age old complaint by your grandparents that you never had it so easy? To some degree, perhaps. But we know that when we go longer than we should without some form of destruction or deprivation, the resulting event that nature wreaks on us is larger and more painful. Turns out three meals a day for life probably isn’t good for you, any more than giving trillions of dollars to the four largest banks so that they could continue to leech off our blood was. Without destruction, there can be no creation. They are opposite sides of the same coin, one that we have flipped in our society and forced it to come up heads for too long. When it finally lands on tails, it will be too heavy for us to pay what’s due.
There is a beautiful sunrise out my eastern kitchen window. The way light is morphed into so many colors is fascinating. I took a half day off Wednesday and we went to see Monet: The Early Years at the Kimball. He was a master at studying and recreating the effects of light in a way that if you look closely turns to painted gibberish. I wonder how many of our artists today study and reflect on light in the way the Impressionists did. I wish that my view wasn’t obstructed by power lines and neighbors trees and houses. A sunrise like this on the prairie or mountains would be truly magnificent. Still, the light changing from pinks to orange with light blues interspersed and streaked between is wonderful.