A Bridge

The cynicism of Edward Abbey

Here’s a piece I did in class on a man who I don’t entirely agree with, but at least he spoke honestly and eloquently about his convictions.

An American Anarchist

Stop human progress to save the environment. It’s a view not many mainstream environmentalists would agree with.

But for Edward Abbey, “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

It’s hard enough to find someone who truly thinks outside the box nowadays, but it’s even harder to find someone who dares to talk outside the box. Abbey was one of the few.

Anarchist, atheist, environmentalist, pro-abortion and pro-gun ownership, he could inspire or enrage in equal measure.

A prolific writer, his book The Monkey Wrench Gang inspired the foundation of EarthFirst!, an environmental advocacy group, and the concept of “ecotage”, after the characters in the novel who sabotage industry and roadworks, but not people, in the name of nature.

In Defence of the Wild

“The idea of wilderness needs no defense, only defenders” is but one of his many one-liners praising the natural world. Having been a Desert Ranger in the famous Arches National Monument Park in the States, he loved the great outdoors, and the simple pleasures of “ chopping wood, building a fire, drawing water from a spring.”

With the long periods of solitude in the Utah desert, chronicled in what is now considered one of the finest US nature narratives, Desert Solitaire, also came a hate for organised civilisation, industry, money and blind progress. “In the modern techno-industrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.”

He probably would hate this profile written about him. He despised being categorised and labelled, preferred his prose to do the talking for him. Although he wrote for EarthFirst! and other environmental agencies, he was no fan of organised societies.

A Thinly Veiled Hate

A firm believer that anarchy is “the hardheaded realisation…that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals and county commissioners,” he stayed away from social institutions, despite studying in the University of New Mexico and Edinburgh University.

He held controversial views on guns, stating that “the rifle is the true democratic weapon”, and on women’s rights, defining the lack of choice on abortion as “a form of rape by the State.”

When accused of hating too many things, his defence was “that love implies anger”, that for a man to love grass, he must hate the concrete. At heart, he simply loved things with a burning passion, and had to hate their counterparts with the same passion.

What a shame he passed away in 1989, at 62, before the internet age which would have given him a limitless platform for his works and ideals.

But he would have despised working with lifeless computers to blog or preach (his views on Christianity were just as inflammatory as his others), preferring the loneliness of the wild, far from the crowds and people he could not stand.

As he once put it, “If a dog is a man’s best friend, then that dog has a problem.”

All quotes are from quotedsdaddy.com. It’s hard to interview a dead man.


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