Ideology and Biases of the Dispatches
   I make no distinction between cultural and natural Dispatches because I believe that man and his works, however vile or wondrous, are also part of nature. New York City is as “natural” as the Amazon or the Adirondacks.  I have, you could say, a more Shakespearean view of what “nature” is than a Thoreauvian one.  In a book called “L’Art de l’Afrique Noir,” I recently came across a quote by an anthropologist called Herskowitz (anyone know his first name?) that immediately grabbed my attention:   “Culture is the man-made part of the environment.” This is the first ideological premise of the Dispatches. The separation of man and nature has been a dominant orthodoxy of the American conservation movement, but in my opinion it is a completely artificial dichotomy, which has done a lot of harm in places like Africa, where local people were driven out to create game parks, and where you have to deal with the guerillas before you can save the gorillas. In the Adirondack Park, the oldest experiment in a “park with people,” the concerns and needs of the local Adirondackers have not been sufficiently factored into the initiatives to protect the largest chunk of “wilderness” in the east, and in fact much of this “wilderness” is second- or third-growth forest that has returned after being clearcut a hundred years ago or more recently. In most of the world you are not going to find the pure wilderness experience any more, but nature that has been significantly modified by man-- but is still nature. This is the nature that people are going to be experiencing and that they must learn to live with. Wilderness is not a natural state, but an idea that started with Thoreau and found its greatest proponent in John Muir. The definition of nature changed in the 19th century, as the negative efIfects of industrialization and settlement became apparent. See Leo Marx’s Machine in the Garden.  But the separation of man from nature begins with the Enlightenment, when the spirits, which still exist in places like Amazonia and Madagascar and in many cases are believed to be reincarnated humans, were taken out of the plants and animals and scientists began to dissect and catalogue the flora and the fauna and the human anatomy. One of the great taxonomists was Buffon. He was one of the French encyclopedists, who after producing produced an exhaustive, multi-volume systema naturalis, had the wisdom to declare, “There exist in nature neither orders nor genera, only individuals.” This is another premise of the Dispatches. The same applies to the various racial categorizations of humans. The boundary between man and nature is artificial. All boundaries are artificial. David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist, is finding that the boundary between the forest and the sea in the Pacific Northwest is not really real, as I will be reporting. I intend to do more research on how the meaning of nature has changed over time. Any leads or thoughts on the subject would be most welcome.   

         Here is another premise, by the late Bruce Chatwin who was a friend and with whose wavelength I am on perhaps more than any other writer: “Travel does not merely broaden the mind. It makes the mind. Our early explorations are the raw materials of our intelligence… Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live, as a navigator takes bearing on familiar landmarks. If we excavate the memories of childhood, we remember the paths first, things and people second.”
     
         La différence, and trying to understand the reasons why it exists, is a big theme of the dispatches. In l986 I was asked by Harvard Magazine, on the occasion of Harvard’s 350th  birthday, what I thought was the most pressing problem in the world, and I said, “Eliminating what I call ‘la difference”’—between the rich and the poor, the white and the black, the U.S. and the rest of the world, and achieving an equitable share of the world’s resources and opportunities.” The explanations range from the role of accident--- the fortuitous distribution of domesticable plants and animals, as elaborated by Jared Diamond in Guns, Germs, and Steel, to Russell Banks’s thesis that any country that had colonies or slaves got a jumpstart on its economy, as if it were given an interest-free loan, to this observation by the poet Rabindranath in l893: “Fate has allowed humanity such a pitifully meager coverlet, that in pulling it over one part of the world, another has to be left bare.” 

         As for biases, I belong to the tradition of what I call “the modern fugitive,” to which I devote a chapter in my book on the Southwest, Legends of the American Desert. Its adherents include Rousseau, Thoreau, Pierre Loti, Arthur Rimbaud, Wilfred Thesiger, D.H.Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, Carl Jung, Everett Ruess, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac. This means that I have reservations about mainstream Western culture, and always will.  

I am a technophobe, but a mycophile. The latter I think has an ethnic component. 
See Mushrooms.
 
 
 
 

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