Dear Dirty America

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Duncan, the Great Bear-Slayer & Great American Asshole

February 18
01:04 2012
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
Los Angeles

This is not Duncan the bear killer, but John Muir, the lover of nature.



John Muir writes in his Wilderness Essays, in “the Animals of the Yosemite”:

Duncan confessed to me, when we made an excursion together in 1875, that he was at first mortally afraid of bears, but after killing a half dozen he began to keep count of his victims, and became ambitious to be known as a great bear-hunter.

In nine years he had killed forty-nine, keeping count by notches cut on one of the timbers of his cabin on the shore of Crescent Lake, near the south boundary of the Park. He said the more he knew about bears, the more he respected them and the less he feared them….

He wanted to kill an even hundred; then he was going to confine himself to safer game. There was not much money in bears, anyhow, and a round hundred was enough for glory (142-43).

Duncan the great bear-killer could be put up as a model on what is wrong with this country. It’s not manly or honorable to sneak up on beautiful, massive wild creatures and pop them in the back of the head with a rifle blast.

I can’t think of a more disrespectful way to harness and use the earth’s resources and abundance.

When killing animals is not even for food but purely an adrenaline rush, and good sport, it is offensive and ungodly. Duncan the great bear-killer quietly traipsing around the Park, aiming to slaughter an even hundred. Did that give him credibility in the Great Beyond? Or was his soul gobbled by angry bear spirits waiting for him just beyond the decaying pearly gates of the Otherworld?

Use, consume, and throw away. That’s been the mantra of the West for hundreds of years, and it seems to only increase in intensity. We don’t hunt bears like that anymore (partly because there are no more left, at least in California), but we disrespect the earth’s blessed abundance every day. We eat too much food, throw the extras away, day after day. Our millions of restaurants are wasteful. Our mass production process deposits tons of “junk” into landfills every year.

We continue to use up Nature, to steal from it without giving anything back. We extract and disfigure, all in the vain of Duncan the bear-killer. For our own private means and glory. It stems from the same attitude of popping scores of buffalo while riding in a coach across the vast American countryside. Consuming or destroying the earth’s resources for our own constant pleasure and sport.

Our big capital economic system is horrendously wasteful and disrespectful. For example, Wal-Mart and every other retailer must move a certain number of items off the shelf every day and into homes and apartments, or else Wal-Mart board members and managers are no longer satisfied with the store’s profits and growth. Every year, every retailer must grow grow grow in the short-term. And by whatever means necessary.

Our economic system banks on the fact that the product will not last long and will be tossed into the dumpster in the next few months or years, so you once again go out and buy the same product. Think of computers and electronics. Cell phones. Appliances. Garden equipment. Tools. Our materialistic system is like a shark in water. It must keep rushing forward, or else it begins to suffocate and die.

Not only does rampant capitalism lend itself to extreme recklessness and large-scale squander, it rewards the makers of products with less quality. If you pay $400 for a low-to-middle-end laptop, you might expect it to work between two and four years. When one minuscule piece inside that computer’s hardware suddenly stops working, it might cost you one or two hundred to fix it. The incentive would be to buy a new computer and junk the old one.

A healthy society would have an economy that supported the cheap fixing of that computer. Our businesses should be crafting products for long-term usage. Quality products. Not smartphones that last for two years.

We must start respecting Nature, and the material abundance of our world by consuming less, living within our means, and recycling as much as possible (even though recycling is not all that it’s cracked up to be). We need to be aware of how much garbage we produce, and how often we can re-use materials and recycle them in our own homes.

A world power or UN mandate would not be necessary to limit how much each person can consume, nor would planetary laws limiting the “carbon footprint,” because that kind of system could quickly turn into tyranny and become a corporate global power doing the ruling over who gets access to what natural resources. And those with the most money would win. Self-education and respect for the air, water, animals, and earth would be a great start.

We can buy what we need from stores owned by people who are not trying to net one hundred million in profit every year, but instead are trying to make a living and support their families. We must aim for living in respectful abundance, and not irresponsible, gratuitous overkill.

For a collection of writings by John Muir, click here.

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