Conversations with Abbey
Edward Abbey once told me that he received a lot of hate mail of which he was very proud. Jim Scarantino’s article in your recent issue of the Alibi would scarcely cause Ed to twitch in his grave [The Real Side, “Flogging Abbey’s Ghost,” Feb. 15-21]. Scarantino characterizes Ed as an alcoholic philanderer (Ed was not an alcoholic) and infers that his legacy should have died with him. This diatribe was unleashed because it was announced that Ed’s best-known novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, is soon to be filmed here in New Mexico.
Edward Abbey was a man of honor, an ethicist, not a lawyer. He inspired the modern radical environmental movement at a time when few paid more than modest lip service to protection of habitat. Within a year of Ed’s death in 1989, another old friend, David Brower, told me that he had the highest respect for Ed Abbey. Folksinger and activist Pete Seeger said to me, “Your friend Edward Abbey is a great man.”
Today, some of Ed’s critics, especially those who reside to the right of center, lambast his memory for having suggested 40 years ago that we defend our habitat against the encroachment of modern carpetbaggers and their men in government.
On Jan. 1, 1983, in a recorded conversation, Ed Abbey said to me:
“Personally, I feel that whenever all other means fail, we are morally obligated to defend that which we love by whatever means are available. If my family, my life, my children were attacked, I wouldn’t hesitate to use violence to defend them. By the same principle, if land I love is being violated, raped, plundered, murdered, and all political means to save it have failed, I personally feel that sabotage is morally justifiable ... Sabotage is an act of force against material objects, machinery, in which life is not endangered, or should not be. Terrorism, on the other hand, is violence against human beings and other living things ... Our government committed great acts of terrorism against the people of Vietnam. That’s what terrorism means—violence and the threat of violence against human beings and other forms of life. Which is radically different from sabotage, a much more limited form of conflict. I’d go so far as to say that a bulldozer tearing up a hillside, ripping out trees for a logging operation or a strip mine is committing terrorism—violence against life.”
The environmental movement has evolved since 1983. The ranks of environmentalists now include lawyers, scientists of myriad persuasion and hard-working volunteers who do an enormous amount of grunt work in behalf of earthly habitat. I commend them all as the heroes they are, as would Ed.
But for fire, great spirit, enormous heart and major balls, Ed stood very tall and very strong in a time when environmentalism had yet to come into its own. That’s the Ed Abbey I knew—a gadfly with an enormous wingspan whose sting still has great power, even from beyond the grave.
Read Desert Solitaire, Fire on the Mountain, The Brave Cowboy, Black Sun, Good News, Slumgullion Stew, Down the River, Beyond the Wall, The Journey Home, Abbey’s Road, One Life at a Time, Please and The Monkey Wrench Gang and be inspired by a man of great soul and intellect. We pray that the film does justice to the novel that was given birth by an artist and activist who loved wilderness even more than his women. Edward Abbey was a man, not a shadow of a man, who provided great spiritual energy to two generations of environmental activists—and if indeed we survive as a species, he will undoubtedly inspire many more.