Posted by: atowhee | July 21, 2020


After I published this post, my favorite enviro writer,George Monbiot, came out with column that just underlines the demolition thrust of modern governments.  Economic growth has replaced the medieval papacy as the dominant religious doctrine…and now its global.

I recently read Horizon, a memoirish book by Oregonian Barry Lopez.   He has traveled widely and often.  He has frequented and volunteered with scientific expeditions from Ellesmere Island to Antarctic to the tropics.  I know that his travels have drawn criticism from younger writers who descry his use of jet fuel to travel about as if privileged.  In fact, he was privileged by his writing to go places the rest of us will never see. Yet, today I see young men driving six-wheel pick-up trucks through the streets, with truck beds empty–the huge fuel-hungry metal boxes seem merely an expression of a certain kind of macho pride…planet be damned.  Any one of us can be accused, rightly, of doing damage to this life-enriched planet.  Any claim  of innocence by any living human is pretense. Almost daily we all contribute to the demise of life on earth.

Lopez is wise, seeing and relating the damage our species is doing.  Yet, he promises some hope if we can overcome the many current negative processes.  He sees how the nation-state only makes conflict and greed and environmental destruction more likely–just think of the global sport of GDP competition!  He also points out that humans have become so controlling and powerful because of some of our BEST–yes, positive–attributes as animals.  We can listen to one another, and we can co-operate.  We were never faster than the big cats or wolves.  We couldn’t swim like a fish or even a loon.  We couldn’t fly until very recently.  We were not stronger than grizzlies or horses.  People were not bigger than elephants or whales.  But we worked together, a dozen hands and six minds capable of a great deal more than other animals.  So we do have the capability of survival, if there is leadership and the will.  Lopez thinks the ordinary people will have to become leaders, like Black Lives Matter and Occupy and general strikes.  Our political processes are now so corrupted by money and greed that elected or self-selected leaders cannot be expected to make choices to preserve the life on this planet.

So, as ever, life hangs in the balance.  The pandemic has been a brilliant real-life political science test–which nations care more about money than people and vice versa?  Some results are clear–New Zealand suffered isolation to save its population.  Narcissist leaders in India, Brazil, Russia and the U.S.  have propelled those nations into an upward spiral of infection, fear and death.  Today the US President renews his daily covid performances in front of TV cameras, his resumed reality TV show.  Why?  because he has come to see covid as a way to instill fear in the population.  He imagines that fear in the population becomes weakness which imbues him with yet more power. Agent Orange’s niece has made it plainly clear why he sees weakness in others as strength in himself.  Is this President’s view of the U.S. truer than Lopez’s hope for our ability to save ourselves from destruction?  We shall certainly know by the end of January, 2021.

After reading this a former co-worker and long-time friend emailed his comment:
Really appreciated the remark about the nation state.  I’ve long been fascinated by the apparent synergistic relationship between the size of the basic polity and advances in weaponry.  Each such advance tends to require a larger, more industrial, and more technological political organization to support.  Tribal units couldn’t support bronze weapons, for instance, likewise the feudal system in both Europe and China were done in by the invention of firearms.

Under this view, the nation state made itself obsolete on July 16, 1945 in the desert of New Mexico.  The cost of maintaining a  modern arsenal outstrips the economic potentially of even the richest nation state, and a lesser economy such as that of the Soviet Union is literally eaten alive by its own military.
The nation state is an anachronism vainly ravaging the planet to secure resources that it only needs because of the ever-rising cost of convincing itself that it is defended against the rapaciousness of all the other nation states.
Or at least that is how it seems to me.


  1. Horizon is excellent. I have enjoyed reading his books ever since I first came across Arctic Dreams while in graduate school. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. […] After a finished reading Horizons last summer, I posted this blog (click on this link). One aspect of his world travels that most impressed me was the time he deliberately spent in Arctic and Antarctic…our most distant horizons. Some environmentalists were harshly critical of Lopez’s willingness to jet about the planet. I would say his writing was his work and much of it can sati8sfy the rest of us that we have visited in absentia and needn’t make such a trip ourselves, even if we could, […]

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