Friday, October 13, 2017

When Edward Abbey TKOed Alexander Cockburn

The following letter from the late Edward Abbey (popular author of "The Monkey Wrench Gang" and "Desert Solitaire," among other great works) appears to be the letter  Alexander Cockburn refers to in "The Golden Age Is In Us," which he says he left unanswered because he didn't know how to respond to it. The non-response illustrates a peculiar inability to engage real political dialogue on the part of the American left, particularly surprising in Cockburn himself, who was at least open to listening to right-wing libertarians and populists on occasion. But here not. Note the closing line, more relevant today than ever.

To Alexander Cockburn 5/5/88: 

        “I’m a regular reader of your column in The Nation, always with interest, usually with general agreement. You can easily imagine, then, how deeply you have wounded my feelings by calling me (and my good friend Dave Foreman) “fascist,” “racist,” etc. I am accustomed to such childish name-calling from sectarian fanatics like Murray Bookchin, but I would have assumed that you would adopt a more rational tone.

         “Opposition to mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, does not make one a fascist or racist. It merely makes one an opponent of mass immigration, as are the overwhelming majority of American citizens, including most Mexicans, blacks, Indians etc. (If we can believe the polls. And the response of Congress to years of complaint.) Most labor leaders and unions are against more immigration, for good and obvious reasons; almost all conservationists are against immigration, for reasons even more good and obvious. The basic fact is that America is sinking under an overload of political, social, economic and environmental problems; we are in no position to take on those of Latin America, Asia and Africa as well.

          “Of course much of the Third World’s misery is caused by European and American imperialism. Among our many moral obligations is to bring that infernal meddling to an end. E.g., no more loans, no more weapons, no more medical missionaries, no more CIA chicanery. Agreed. But it’s merely a white middleclass liberal guilt neurosis to imagine that our domineering arrogance is the sole or even the central source of mischief. Africans were murdering, eating and enslaving one another long before Vasco de Gama appeared off the Angolan coast. The endless horrors of Mexico go back at least to the Mayan and Aztec empires and their culture of war, massacre, slavery, torture, human sacrifice and cannibalism. To most Mexican Indians, Cortez probably appeared (at first) as a liberator. And Asia: India and its caste system, China, Japan . . . Ah well, you see my point.

  “If you hope for any sort of dialogue and unity with all factions on the vaguely leftist or radical side of politics, you must cease from silly verbal abuse. If you don’t want it, then we go on as we are, fractious and impotent.”

-----Edward Abbey

(Quoted in "Postcards From Ed - Dispatches and Salvos From an American Iconoclast", pps. 239-40)

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