Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

Lierre Keith and the Politics of Exclusion

February 13, 2014


A young friend of mine who is a student at the University of Oregon recently sent me a message asking me to sign a petition demanding that Lierre Keith not be allowed to speak at a Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University later this month. The petition claims that Keith is a transphobe and a racist. I must admit, not without some embarrassment, that I did not know who Keith is. I subsequently learned that she is a feminist and environmentalist. She is a founding member of an environmental group, Deep Green Resistance.

The accusation of racism apparently stems from an incident in which she posted a comment on a DPR message board in which she called Lakota culture “patriarchal”. When some people criticized the comment, it was taken down. I don’t think there is anything to see here.

The transphobia accusation is more substantial. Deep Green Resistance is unique among environmental groups in that it doesn’t allow transgender members. This is due to the particular brand of feminism that Keith and other leading members of DPR subscribe to. These people hold, as Keith puts it, that gender is “not a binary but a hierarchy”. (You can find an exposition of Keith’s ideas here. You can find a critique of those ideas here) Keith objects to transgenderism because it seems to her to go against her theory of gender. (It apparently doesn’t occur to her that perhaps this means that the theory should be modified in some way. But what does an empiricist like me know.)

I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, I’m a firm believer in free speech, including for people I disagree with. On the other hand, if Keith insists on excluding some people, she shouldn’t be surprised if they want to exclude her in return. I would have to say that Keith should be allowed to speak, but with the proviso that people can protest her views if they so wish.

Edward Abbey

June 3, 2013


The latest issue of CounterPunch contains an article by Jeffrey St. Clair, in which he expresses his deep indignation that some people have actually dared to criticize something that appeared on his poorly edited and politically confused website. The article is mostly not very interesting, but my curiosity was piqued by the following passage in which St. Clair recounts a conversation he allegedly had with Joshua Frank:

    “Right, right. Are we Trots?”
    “Not that I know of.”
    “Doug Henwood just wrote that we were Edward Abbeyists.”
    “Sounds good to me.”
    “He didn’t mean it as a compliment.”
    “What does he know? He hasn’t left his apartment in the last 12 years.”

I have never met Doug Henwood, but I feel reasonably certain that he does leave his apartment sometimes, if only to buy groceries at the very least. That’s not what concerns me here, however. What interests me is that St. Clair and Frank apparently see themselves as “Edward Abbeyists”. (The correct term is “Abbeyists”. I know, I’m nitpicking.)

Edward Abbey was an American writer and environmentalist. I remember that his writings were very popular during the 1980’s. They influenced the radical environmentalist movement of that period, as well as some anarchists. However, I don’t hear his name mentioned often nowadays. When I lived in Oregon, the anarchists I met there mostly talked about Kropotkin and Bakunin. There may be any number of reasons for this, but I suspect that one of them may be that Abbey sometimes wrote things like this:

    This being so, it occurs to some of us that perhaps evercontinuing [sic] industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion, and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people. At least until we have brought our own affairs into order. Especially when these uninvited millions bring with them an alien mode of life which – let us be honest about this – is not appealing to the majority of Americans. Why not? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful–yes, beautiful!–society, for another. The alternative, in [sic] the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see. [Emphasis added.]

This is from an article that Abbey wrote for The New York Times. The Times, which has never been a huge defender of immigrants, refused to publish it.

How did Abbey propose to keep out these “culturally-morally-genetically impoverished” people? He tells us:

    Therefore-let us close our national borders to any further mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, as does every other nation on earth. The means are available, it’s a simple technical-military problem. Even our Pentagon should be able to handle it. We’ve got an army somewhere on this planet, let’s bring our soldiers home and station them where they can be of some actual and immediate benefit to the taxpayers who support them.

So, Abbey wanted to militarize the U.S.-Mexican border. Some environmentalist. Few things are more environmentally destructive than an army.

Elsewhere, Abbey wrote:

    Am I a racist? I guess I am. I certainly do not wish to live in a society dominated by blacks, or Mexicans, or Orientals. Look at Africa, at Mexico, at Asia.

One sympathetic article in The New York Times described him as as a “a melancholic naturalist who loved the land but did not care much for Indians, Hispanics or blacks.”

This melancholic naturalist is the man with whom the editors of CounterPunch politically identify.