Goldberg Among The Caribou

"And,
no matter how you slice it, America`s claim to Texas
and the Southwest is certainly far less morally
compelling than Israel`s is to its land."

-Jonah Goldberg, August 17,
2001
 

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Jonah Goldberg


At a
conservative-libertarian meeting in Dallas some years
ago, during the Q & A session following a talk
I`d given on the need for immigration restriction to
this country for environmental (and other) reasons, a
gentleman at the back of the room stood up to express
his view of the environment
in general. He was against it, he affirmed. All
of it. The environment, it seemed, was a conspiracy
against humanity. But he wasn`t buying. The best use
for the Grand Canyon, suggested my questioner (or was
he the answerer?), was to fill it in with L.A.`s
garbage and build a sixteen-lane highway across it. That
would serve the snakes and the burros and the
catamounts and the backpackers and the treehuggers and
the rafters and the Colorado River right!

I
was reminded of the episode by Jonah Goldberg`s National
Review
cover story, “Ugh, Wilderness! The horror
of `ANWR,` the American elite`s favorite
hellhole” (August 6, 2001. VDARE
note: We can`t link because
NR doesn`t post its cover stories, but for the
Goldbergist line on the environment, click here,
here, or
here.
)

This
bit of investigative journalism in
situ
resulted, apparently, from an NR
cruise in the Beaufort Sea—and by the author`s
reminder that for Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, the vast
canyon
he stumbled upon in 1540 was not a wonder
of the world but only “a huge hole in the ground,
and an even bigger hassle.”

In
1979-80, I spent a year working in the oilpatch of
western Wyoming to write my book Roughnecking
It
. It was the best year of my life – such a
relief to work out of doors and drink Jack Daniels
coming off work at seven a.m., rather than beat my
head against my old manual
office Royal
day in and day out – spent among
interesting colleagues and in picturesque locales.
(Goldberg wrongly concedes that “Opponents of
drilling are absolutely right: Oil exploration isn`t
pretty.”) I am not against energy extraction per
se.
Even in the particular instance of the Alaska
National Wildlife Refuge I`m content to reserve
judgment, for now. If immigration really does balloon the population of this country to four hundred or
four-hundred-fifty-million people by 2050, we`re
going to need plenty of oil.

But as
an outdoorsman and ragged irregular bearing his own
fieldpiece in the environmental wars, I recognize the
language of economic libertarians (except the von
Mises Institute
), ideological capitalists, and
immigration enthusiasts – one and the same people,
usually – as applied to issues regarding natural
preservation and conservation, development, and
population problems.

It`s
the language of the in-your-face economite,
on the one hand, and, on the other, of the urbane
economite whose good manners and reasonable demeanor
serve to distance him not only from the modern
monsters typified by my interlocutor in Dallas but
also from the woad-painted, longhaired savages of
Earth First! – as well as, somewhere in between,
corporate environmentalists like Carl Pope of the Sierra
Club

and Jimmy
Carter of Habitat for Humanity.

It`s only human to be goaded to error by extremist
– or even
simply wrongheaded and infuriating – positions taken
by one`s debating opponents. Urbane economites,
minding perhaps President Eisenhower`s maxim about
never losing your temper except on purpose, poke fun
at the crazies (e.g., the sort of people who can write
of the “glorious” and “majestic” caribou
returning each year to their “glorious” and
“majestic” calving grounds in the ANWR), to
discredit and ridicule non-economite
values that are not only rational in themselves but human in a way economites can only pretend to understand. And do.

So,
Goldberg never suggests–even facetiously–that the
Alaska National Wildlife Refuge should be converted
into an 853,776,000,000-square-foot Wal-Mart
GalactiCenter. (Though he does hazard a guess that the
majority of American supporters of drilling for oil in
ANWR would, on seeing it first hand, agree with him
that, “if America had to be struck by an asteroid,
this would be the ideal impact point.”) Instead, he
demurs:

The
most striking thing about this part of the world is
how much meaning we impose on it….In this sense the
whole area is really just a Rorschach test for the
imagination. There`s little doubt that for much of
human history most reasonable people would have
considered this spot the definition of the word
`godforsaken.`

The same
could be said – in fact, it`s said all the time – of
the high sagebrush plains of Wyoming, whose spare
beauty I find enticingly lovely, or of the lodgepole
flats of Yellowstone Park that to me are tedious, but
which delight most visitors and which not even Jonah
Goldberg recommends turning into a western version of
the Jersey Meadows.

Getting
back to Coronado and the Grand Canyon, Goldberg
writes, in faux self-apology,

So
if it took hundreds of years for Americans to
recognize that a giant gash in the ground was actually
a marvel, perhaps I can be forgiven for failing to
see the beauty in the coastal plain—if
that beauty is actually there
[my emphasis].
 

Why do I
get the impression Goldberg simply has neither eye to
see nor heart to feel the stark beauty of Jack
London`s Alaska, Brontë`s northern England, or
Laura Ingalls Wilder`s Dakota territory, while the
Grand Canyon isn`t exactly his thing, either? (Too
few people; no green grass; not enough like Central
Park.) Like Coronado, he`d probably prefer the Big
Rock Candy Mountain – a mountain of gold! – to a ditch
with a trickle of muddy water at the bottom of it.

Finally,
it isn`t necessary to be a Deep Ecologist, or even
an “inhumanist” like Robinson
Jeffers
, to appreciate that strain in the
sensibility of Western culture which urges us to value
nature for itself, to adopt a broader perspective on
it than the narrowly homocentric one allows for.
Goldberg says,

The appeal of ANWR to
the average environmentalist is an entirely
psychological one. …The fact is, environmentalists
simply savor the idea that there is something untouched by grubby humanity out there.

Indeed
they (we) do. And one of them–the late Edward Abbey,
dean of American “environmentalist” writers in
this century, now largely ignored by his politically
correct successors–was explicit about this, writing
as much as a quarter-century ago that, though for him
damp and buggy Alaska lacked the arid allure of his
chosen home, the desert Southwest, nevertheless the
fact that space and liberty existed to such vast
extent gave him welcome psychological and emotional
assurance. (Not to mention somewhere to get
conveniently lost in, if need arose.)

As for
“grubby humanity:” Who does not feel–at times,
anyway–the urge to escape the overweening,
overreaching, overbreeding, overwhelming global
project imposed on the world by the post-modern,
post-industrial age?

The
answer is, immigration enthusiasts working night and
day to import the teeming anthills of Calcutta, Hong
Kong, Mexico City, Brasilia, Peking, Seoul, and
Bangladesh to American soil; and their allies, the
economic libertarians and ideological capitalists.
That`s who. (You want people with a homocentric view
amounting to a positively hostile attitude toward
nature; you can find all of them you want south of the
border, among the noble Mexican proletariat.)

Oh, and
here`s an idea! After all the oil has been
discovered and pumped from under ANWR, we can use the
place as a resettlement
colony for people from northern Laos, or somewhere.

They`d only be taking housing sites Americans won`t
live on. You know?

Chilton
Williamson Jr.

is the author of The
Immigration Mystique: America`s False Conscience

and an editor and columnist for Chronicles
Magazine, where he writes the The Hundredth Meridian
column about life in the Rocky Mountain West.

August 17, 2001