Joy, shipmates, joy!

A continuación un discurso pronunciado por Edward Abbey en 1976 en Vail, Colorado,  en la Conferencia «La Anatomía del Cambio en los Asentamientos Humanos en las Montañas Rocosas del Oeste»; conferencia llevada a cabo sólo unas semanas después de la primer conferencia del Hábitat en Vancouver. Sin embargo, este discurso, con unas cuantas variantes, bien podría ser pronunciado hoy. ¿Cuánto ha cambiado el mundo en 40 años? Parece que muy poco…

I am pleased to be invited to Vail to speak once again about overpopulation, overcrowding, war, pollution, urban squalor, mental anguish, social injustice, vanishing wildlife, the breakdown of the family, starvation, Civil War, ski resorts and women. World  misery is my favorite subject, and I am always happy to talk about it.
Let me say at once, however, that I am an optimist: that is, I believe that no matter how wretched the human situation may presently appear, it is not nearly so wretched as it is going to be. In other words, I regard the problem of this world as hopeless. Utterly hopeless. But -as a composer John Cage one said- when the situation is hopeless, there is nothing to worry about. Let us proceed.


Do not imagine that I am so morally callous as to be indifferent to the suffering of others. I am as conscious as the next person of the tyranny in Russia and Eastern Europe,  the suppression of the human personality in the termitoriums of China, the degradation of life in India and Africa, the hunger torture and strife in most Latin America. But my attitude toward these problems is essentially laissez faire: hands off, let be, do not meddle. We in America cannot solve the problems of other nations and should not attempt to do so. Not only should we stop supplying military aid to all the vicious little right-wing dictatorships around the world, but we should phase-out economic aid as well. Not only economic aid but even the giving of what we think is good advice – which I regard as a form of arrogance and cultural imperialism.

No man is wise enough to be another man’s master. No nation is clever enough to manage the affairs of another. No technology is sophisticated enough to straighten out difficulties which our political, social, biological, and cultural in origin and nature. Give them enough room and time and they — the people, the ordinary, common citizens of this so called undeveloped, under-developed or developing countries– will find away  (ridiculous phrases, our country is over-developed).

I see I’m starting to lapse into a sloppy utopianism again, instead of dealing with the grim actualities confronting us today in Vail, Colorado, imported cheese capital of the western slope. But as I said I’m an optimist; I have complete confidence that our present society is cracking up and will soon self-destruct, to be followed, inevitably,  by something simpler , cleaner, freer, better. I have absolutely no faith in government a little faith in conferences such as this — but I do have faith in the in the commonsense and practicality of working people – farmers , musicians, ranchers,  waitresses , craftsmen,teachers,  mothers,  even novelists. Even actors. Even town managers (but not city managers). Where does the spirit of good cheer come from? Well, I’ve been doing pretty good at poker lately. Yes, we’ve got an informal little poker club over ther in Moab, Utah, right in the heart of Brigham Young country, there’s something about winning at poker which restores my faith in the innate goodness of my fellow man (Furthermore -baby needs shoes).

I see that I have strayed a bit from the assigned topic, which is, I understand, «The Anatomy of Change and Human Settlement in the Rocky Mountain West». Good. The topic suits me. I consider myself a savage, vicious, embittered, utterly irresponsible critic of our society and for years, in my writing, I have been cultivating the art of the arrogant sneer, the venomous put-down, the elegant hatched job. I want to be feared; I want to be hated. I find it most frustrating that everywhere I go people sit around laughing at me. Nevertheless, we must carry on, each in our appointed course, however humble.


Some say that the industrialization of the Rocky Mountain West is inevitable and therefore that we must plan in order to make the best of it. I say the industrialization of the Rocky Mountain West is not inevitable and Vape to plan for such a catastrophe is to invite it in all the more readily. Planning for growth incites growth, encourages growth. The plan for growth is to concede defeat before the battle has been fully joined.

We must not plan for growth but plan for war – a war against the strip miners, against the dam builders, against the power plant builders, against the pipeline layer, against the freeway builders, against the model-city builders, against the forest killers, against the coal-gasifiers and oil shale proccessors. A war against that whole array of arrogant and greedy swine who, if we let them, will level every mountain, dam every river, clearcut every forest, and obliterate every farm and ranch and small town in the American West before they’ll admit to any flaw in their insane religion of the ever-expanding economy.

A normal organism grows to a certain optimum point and levels off; we call that maturity,adulthood, wholeness, health. But an organism which keeps growing beyond the optimum is sick, diseased; it is a freak and a monstrosity. The endless multiplication of cells within an organism is cancer in action; and cancer destroys both itself and its host. Growth for the sake of growth is the idealogy of the cancer cell.

In Japan, Russia, Europe, and North America industrialism long ago reached and passed the point of diminishing returns. Industrialism have become the cancer of the Northern Emisphere, and it sickens the entire planet.

My own reasons for opposing the further industrialization of the Rocky Mountain West are purely selfish. I live here, and I like it the way it is. I like the relatively clean ear, open space, wild rivers, uncrowded roads, productive countryside;  I like most of all the more or less sane, healthy, happy, independent people who live here.

The only sick once I know our paranoid like myself, and the greedy few who would sell out their birthright and sell off their heritage for a few measly million buck. These are the types (and we have them in every community, dominating every Chamber of Commerce meeting) who would sell their mothers grave if the price is right, who would sell the old lady herself for a decent markup…

Selfishness, yes. But if I lived in some other part of America, I would still want to defend the Rocky Mountain West from the rapacity of the industrial machine. Why? For many reasons: because the West offers room for the recreation of the urbanized multitudes; because the national parks, forests, and public lands  of the West are the rightful property of all Americans; because the west still provides a model of what a sane, balanced, agrarian-based economy can give to human beings, what it looks like, feels like, smells like; because the West contains the last great clean-air reservoir in the 48 United States; because the West offers at least a temporary refuge to desperate escapees from the sweltering industrial jungles of the East, the Midwest, the South, and Texas, and poor old blighted, sinking California. This is not blind opposition to change, but quite the opposite. By defending the West against industrial growth, we are helping promote change in American society as a whole. For the sooner the industrial monster is halted, the sooner the American people will perceive the need to change the very basis of our growth-crazy economy.

Yes, I know, there are many bright and well-meaning people with technological solutions to our sociological, political, biological problems. I think of that gifted man Paolo Soleri down in the Arizona desert, erecting his ghastly Soleriums of poured concrete. Did the signs are ingenious; in a mile-high ultimate high-rise with cells enough for 50,000 people; but my God who would really want to live in such a thing? And how will they eat? Who will they eat? No matter how high the structure, the inhabitants cannot live on air or window-box gardens or greenhouse or bathroom fishtanks. They will need land — and not desert land either — but many square miles of arable farm and range. Yet Arizona is already overpopulated; like India or Russia, the state of Arizona cannot feed its present population but have to import most of its food.

Then there is that fellow Gerard O’Neill who wants to pack as a many earthlings as possible into what he calls space colonies, huge hollow cylinders of glass and aluminum orbiting our Mother Earth. Can you imagine rattling around in the universe in a giant garbage can? All too easily – and the prospect does not please. These would not be space colonies but panel colonies, crowded like Sue Marines and opah rated, necessarily, under military discipline. And yet there seems to be no lack of technical beavers eager to build these space dirigibles; «Humanity Unlimited», some industrialist from Lockheed called the scheme, in the pages of Newsweek.

Anything, anything, rather than face the truth; anything rather than acknowledge the need to give up gluttony, waste, conquest, and expansionism in exchange for a steady-state economy, I thrifty conservation of natural resources, a stabilized and much much smaller human population.

Havent I overlooked somebody? Oh yes, there’s R. Buckminster Fuller – what is that humorless old crackpot, that senile old fart doing these days? Well, as far as I know he’s still up in a Boeing 747 orbiting the globe himself, arms loaded with wrist-watches, going like hell all the time and never getting anywhere. Fuller likes to boast that he has flown around the earth 250 times or more. I don’t doubt it; but the man would understand more about the world if he had taken a walk, once in his life, on foot, from his front door to the village post office. 

Perhaps it’s unfair to attack a famous engineer and mathematician for his physical weaknesses; yet I think there is a clear connection between Fuller’s eye problem –his visual myopia– and the barren, arid, abstractness of his ideas; the man has no feel for reality, no feel for flash, soil, land, human beings.

What shall I say then to the theme of these conference? How adress myself to the question of «The Anatomy of Change in Hman Settlement the Rocky Mountain West»? As implied before, I take that question to mean, how can we best adapt ourselves to and prepare for the coming invasion of our region by the growth-crazy industrialism of the corporate state? My answer can be summed up to these two words: oppose it. And if oposition is not enough, resist it. And if resistance is not enough, subvert it. 

My attorney tells me that sabotage is illegal. But he’s in jail himself, so why should we listen to him? Therefore I say: if political means are not sufficient to halt the advance of the iron juggernaut, if economic pressures do not serve us, if recent and loud argument and moral persuasion fail, then we are justified in resorting finally to certain limited forms of violence. Violence is after all the traditional way of settling serious disputes in this country, as American as pizza pie.

Every significant development in American history –independence from England, the settlement of the frontier, the abolition of slavery, the enactment of civil rights, the withdrawal from a hated war in southeast Asia– has been aided, abetted, and promoted through violence. Now we in the West are confronted by regiments of armored monsters grinding towards us — bulldozers, drill rigs, draglines, power shovels, giant earth movers — which promise violence of the most ruthless kind toward our plains, our rivers, our mesas and canyons and mountains, toward our homes, our lands, and our people.

Are we not morally obliged to fight back this threat by any and every method which may be necessary? I say that we are; and I believe that a demonstration of resolution and courage may be all that’s needed to send those iron crocodiles crawling back to where they come from, back where they belong, in the junkyards of Gary, Ind.; Omaha, Neb.; Toledo, Ohio; Houston, Tex.; Euclid, Ohio.

Now I know that most of you came to this conference-symposium to hear some practical suggestions on dealing with complex problems, not a cult to apocalyptic battle. Okay; I’m merely hinting that survival alone is not enough — what we want is survival with beauty, survival with freedom, survival with honor. Toward that end, therefore, I offer my one simple and practical suggestion:

Wherever you go when your auto travels among the wonders of the American West always carry a few gallons of shellac with you, and a bucketful of fine clean sand. What for? Well, the shellac for the fuel tank and the sand for the crankcase, what else? Not your own of course –but theirs.

Enough of this seditious grumbling.

God bless America — let’s save some of it. Long Live The Weeds And The Wilderness Yet! (Joy, shipmates, joy!)


ANNOUNCEMENT: you are all invited to an all night party at Jerry Ford’s house. No peanuts will be served. B. Y. O. B. If security gives you any trouble tell them Abbey sent you

Edward Abbey fue un ambientalista y escritor  apasionado de las montañas rocosas y las reservas naturales de los Estados Unidos. Su obra (novelas, ensayos, poesía) suelen tocar casi siempre la naturaleza como tema central. Fue considerado por muchos el David Thoureau del desierto americano. No leerlo es un desperdicio.
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