Archive for the ‘Advocacy & Activism’ Category

Edward Abbey: My Time With The Contrary Truthsayer

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Edward Abbey:
My Time With The Contrary Truthsayer

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

All italicized quotes by Ed Abbey
(gleaned from his essays, journals, and personal correspondence with this author and others)

We here at Anima get tons of letters and comments if we post a blog on the exemplary natures of house cats, or run virtually anything written by our incurably cute and temporarily young daughter Rhiannon.  What we do not get comments on are posts describing dire ecological realities or the fundamental inherent destructiveness of our generally cherished civilization, the dangers of imaging that a candidate from one political party will be any less odious and pernicious than those from the other party, our cultural illusions and common hypocrisies, or the inescapability of personal responsibility.  Not a single person, in fact, responded to my most recent post… revealingly on the importance of responsiveness.  We understand that some topics are more pleasant to ponder than others, but continue to produce a far reaching range and hopefully balance of subjects, perspectives and moods.

“I would prefer to write about everything; what else is there? But one must be selective.”

The rule for the successful “marketing” of ideas is to identify a specific audience and narrow one’s subject matter, useful advice that I – by my very nature – tend to ignore.  “Blogging on every conceivable topic” our Anima Blog header reads, and it is thus that we post on a medicinal herb one issue, and the obstreperous author and gadfly Edward Abbey in another.  One can help to heal the body, the other may prove an antidote to the gleeful sleepwalking, suffocating illusions and restrictively polite nice-isms that make possible our toleration of injustices and indignities we might best find intolerable.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

In one case, the path of wordage has passed through a brightly flowering meadow while in the next it has dipped into the shadows, and only through all its twists and turns can we hope to recognize the many great and sometimes untidy and discomforting truths.

“It’s the writer’s job to speak the truth – especially unpopular truth.  Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic”.

It was precisely this approach and attitude that first drew me to him, as much as his demonstrative love for the same Southwestern bioregions I’ve so long made my home.  I’d read all his books, from Fire On The Mountain – the story of a White Sands rancher’s stand to protect his land from seizure by the U.S. Air Force – to what was back then his most recent,  the rollicking novel The Monkeywrench Gang, before initiating what would many short but sweet exchanges of correspondence.  Short, I say, because it was plain postcards that he most often mailed out, a few pithy or poignant lines printed on their backs in what was this Luddite’s equivalent of today’s Twitter. I was only mildly insulted, that some of the lines he wrote me had already appeared, or would soon appear, in his essays and books.

“Wolf, don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Ed Abbey said he wrote to encourage his friends and confound his enemies.  But even more than that, he seemed to me to write because it was his nature to do so, and because being a crafty, opinionated and controversial wordsmith brought him both the attention and the isolation that he craved… nipping any superficial relationship “in the bud” as he liked to say, pissing off the powers that be as well as alienating the literary establishment, winning the affections of twenty something year-old female backpackers and the respect of tree-hugging iconoclasts.  He was flattered by the dossier the FBI once compiled on him, and by his fictional Monkeywrench Gang inspiring the formation of a real-life eco-radical tribe, Earth First!, while unmoved by the praise and critiques of what he thought of as university do-nothings, fiction groupies, disembodied intellectuals and the effete cultural elite.  His very effective means for filtering the wild seeds from the civil chaff, was a candid and profoundly liberating political incorrectness.

Step 2 will be shooting a TV that isn't already broke....

“You (Wolf), are a poet, an artist, and a man… and good at all three.”

Even this bit of praise that he sent me proved problematic, as I had to omit the part about “man” in his quote to avoid being mercilessly and ceaselessly ridiculed but the strong and equally opinionated activist women that I worked with.  Women, however, that had all read and been inspired by his classic Canyon Solitaire.  What Abbey did most masterfully, was to communicate the total awesomeness of the natural world, free of the saccharine literary pretentiousness, saccharine sentimentality, liberal guilt and suffering whiny-ness all too prevalent in the “nature writing” genre, and to kick his readers minds into gear with fearsome passion, objectionable opinion and unpredictable perspective.  This resulted in a vociferous fan base of woods romping misfits, and also no small number of critics, detractors and outright antagonists.

“Beware of the man who has no enemies.”

Ed’s enemies were many and often loud, from humanist social ecologist Murray Bookchin and the editor of Green Anarchist, to indignant feminists and offended Hispanics to corporate developers and East Coast literati.  Some attacks flattered him, others seemed to hurt him more than the crusty author liked to let on.

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”

Abbey was as true a man as I ever met, as truthful and wholly, unapologetically real, but he was also a bundle of contradictions, delightfully testy, exaggerated and obnoxious.  Like the character Hayduke that he created, Ed could be extolling the beauty of unspoiled wildlands while pitching a series of emptied beer cans out the window of his old gray truck.  While he loved to get out into the desert for up to weeks at a time, he did more driving than walking, and seldom camped out of sight of his rig.  While he was the best known celebrant of the purposeful sabotage of the machinery of development and wildlands destruction, from what I heard from him as well as his closest compatriots, he only rarely engaged in such illegal acts himself, and he admitted to me bungling much of the little vandalism that he did entertain.  He was disdainful of authentic Latin culture with what he say as its mix of repressive Catholicism, drug lords and corrupt politicians, yet decried the bland American burbs and “cultureless” Texas with its urban cowboy posturing.  He preached against organized religion and spiritual placation, while also holding that “Nothing could be more reckless than to base one’s moral philosophy on the latest pronouncements of science.” Ed was heavily criticized for his female characterizations in his books and his cavalier objectification of women as sex objects, and yet at the same time he spoke out often and strongly in defense of women’s right to make her own decisions regarding birth control or abortion.  He wrote about the virtues of one’s love for a woman and of fidelity to place, while cheating on each of his five wives and openly announcing that “loyalty to one would be to betray all the others”.  He asserted that people are the rightful top of the food chain, while insisting that he would rather kill a human than a coyote, identifying more with the free and furry than with his suited counterparts.

“It’s time this old wolf got out of his hole a bit.”

The postcards he frequently sent to myself and others over the years, invariably featured a return address of either “Wolf Hole” or “Oracle” Arizona, two authentically rural and totally cool sounding places nearly an hour’s drive north of the matching tacky tract homes that both he and his EF! activist sidekick Dave Foreman had purchased on the SE side of trendy Tucson, faux adobe structures featuring twin microwave ovens that no self respecting backwoodsman author or camo-clad ecoactivist could be blamed for wanting to keep quiet about.  And while Ed once served as a Military Policeman, and advocated strong central control of a militarized border with Mexico to prevent the migration of undocumented aliens years before Presidents Bush and Obama started positioning troops there, he was at the same time a self described “lifelong anarchist.”  He was fired as editor of his college paper after writing that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest” and satirically attributing it to Louisa May Alcott.

“Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.”

It was nonetheless an anarchist collective that gave him the greatest grief, at least outside of his tumultuous relationships with women.  In July of 1988, Ed showed up at the EF! Round River Rendezvous atop Arizona’s endangered Mt. Graham.  I was there to assume the teaching of Bill Devall’s deep ecology workshop, and shared the stage with Abbey and others before witnessing him being rudely heckled by the anarchic Alien Nation folks in the audience.  He devotes a chapter of his 1989 novel, Hayduke Lives!, to describing this scene and the remainder of the rendezvous, mentioning me by my stage name of Lone Wolf, and alluding to the bare skinned Tribal Jams concert and ecstatic “amoeba” hugfest that I instigated and from which he reasonably slipped away.  As an aside, the Alien Nation contingent’s camp was found emptied the following morning, having drove off in the middle of the night to escape what they shrilly described as “whip-cracking ecofascist vigilantes”… but that were actually only Green Rage author Christoph Manes, San Diego activist Van C. and myself looking to find and to agitate the retiring David Foreman.  It was a time of active resistance, both against the dominant technoindustrial paradigm of artificiality, conformity and destruction, and against Foreman’s secretive autocratic control of the group he helped found.

“Rebellion transforms slaves into human beings, if only for an hour.”

Foreman and Abbey used to talk about strapping dynamite on their backs once they know they are morally ill, and floating out to the center of Glenn Canyon Dam to liberate the long stagnating Colorado River, but Abbey died in his subdivision.  These days Foreman is a white haired anti-immigrant activist who has smartly avoided all use of the word “explosives” since his arrest and plea bargain.  Ed nonetheless hit the nail on the head, when it comes to the limitations of us housebound writers, and the redeeming value and utter necessity of action.

“Philosophy without action is the ruin of the soul.  Now as always we need heroes and heroines!”

The last time I saw Ed, it was in his house, in a small room he used as his study and den, a place for writing, conversation and cigars, and free from anyone telling us he had to put it out.  He played an album of classical music, while teasing me about the global rock n’ roll of my Deep Ecology Medicine Show act, the elder pouring a glass of whiskey, the younger seated far from his alternative culture of hippies and mountain men, medicine women and pipes filled with a relaxing herb.  Ed ranted about the self indulgence and trivial tangents of modern poets, while admitting he’d tried his hand on writing poetry his self.  We commiserated about the intense feelings of magic and mystery that the wild Gila forest of S.W. New Mexico excites, while regretting we could not use the word “magic” without being lumped with the carefully quaffed, gentle speaking peddlers New Age foolishness.  He remarked about the restraint and boredom inherent in marriage, told me how much he would like to come visit me in my Gila canyon home and bemoaned that probably never would.  He wistfully mentioned the handful of road graders parked unattended just up from their street, set to begin ripping the life out of the desert again come the following Monday, before pouring another drink and settling deeper into chair.  I rode off into the warm Arizona night on my motorcycle, compelled to emphasize in my mind a particularly useful bit of Abbey advice.

“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”

The art of doing wasn’t just a matter of resistance, I knew, an insight I had only slowly learned to apply.  Along with the resistance and struggle, the activism and wilderness restoration, we needed to also nourish ourselves with wild ideas and wild places, well prepared and fully tasted meals.  We needed, and still need, a balance point somewhere between mournful resignation and desperate reaction, a place alive with both ideas and acts, silence and song.

“One brave deed is worth a hundred books, a thousand theories, a million words.”

That said, Abbey’s words were an action in themselves, accelerants feeding the fires of so many others’ passions and causes.  And when he was asked what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he cited not the joys of writing so much as those of food and flesh, family and friendship, in all cases most ideally shared far from pavement and in the illumination of the unbowed desert night’s boundless flurry of stars.

“I shall continue… for as long as it gives me pleasure.”


(RePost and Share Freely)

Flogging Wife-Beaters & Bombing Protesters

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Flogging Wife-Beaters & Bombing Protesters

An Argument Against Violence As A Means of Control

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

No one is likely a more fervent advocate of self defense than I am, being certain that it is not only a legal but a moral right, and even a primary, primal instinct… the response of any living being that values itself and its life.  On the other hand, violence as punishment (including the quiet violence of incarceration) has never appeared effective to me, and both I and my once young delinquent friends were made more resentful and rebellious – not more obedient or subservient – by any beatings or jailings that we were subjected to as kids.  Plus it must be added, that the most evil and least productive or beneficial of all violence is that which is conducted by the state or nation, violence legitimized by a vastly superior and advantaged public entity (whether elected or not!).

Near the time of writing this, the governments of Egypt, the Sudan and Libya have tried to violently suppress the popular uprisings in their respective countries.  In deference to world opinion, they have in most cases done their best to mask that violence by restricting media access, attempting to shut down the internet, using secret service manipulation, and instructing their attacking security forces to conceal their identities and dress like common citizens.  Ghadafi of Libya, however, showed no such reticence or concern, ordering his air force to strafe crowds of demonstrators instead.

It’s significant that our country’s tight fisted managers don’t send in jets when Wisconsin state employees gather to raise hell in Madison, protest signs flying as bullets tear into disgruntled janitors and teachers.  This violence is less blatant by far, but more insidious in that it is more subtle, codified, effective and accepted by a largely acquiescent population.  The prison industry is considered the fastest growing new sector in the United States, suspected terrorists are taken offshore and tortured, and the Bill of Rights has suffered as the power of the government to control, repress and punish has rapidly increased post 9-11.

In the end, state violence as means of control – whether by individuals or agencies – is not only repugnant and unacceptable, but ineffective as well.  Unlike the chastened wife-beater in this odd cartoon flogging promo from the 1940’s, the survivors of Ghadafi’s air strikes are unlikely to feel grateful for the violence and glad to have their strong man ruler back.  Nor should we as U.S. citizens be repaying legitimized and systemized bullying by spending our days in aprons baking the government and corporate ruling “hunks” sweet cakes.

(post and forward freely –

Local Versus National Elections – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Local Versus National Elections

…And Why I’d Vote For a Grandmother

by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

County and state elections never seem to generate the interest or turnout that the presidential elections do, which doesn’t make a lick of sense to me!  No matter which candidate gets into the top slot, we will still end up with the same one-world corporate banking cartel calling all the shots.  This is true regardless of whether it is a Republican or Democrat that is president, and all the arguable differences in policy actually serve as a smoke screen blinding us to the true puppet masters.  Both presidents and senators answer to the same privileged few and their financial interests, the 5% who control 85% of our wealth, and their elite counterparts in Europe and Asia.  Their work is often secretive or inscrutable, they are influenced not by their constituents so much as by lobbyists, and are largely unapproachable.

On the other hand, the not always just or honest machinations of state representatives are likely to be more visible and their intentions more evident.  While they too are besieged by special interests, they are more directly accountable to their state electorate, protecting us from burdensome regulation.  We tend to really know who they are, identify their skeletons and recognize their contradictions, readily feel the effects of their choices and legislation, and more quickly turn them out when they fail us.

County elections are in many ways even more crucial, and in all ways are easier for us to influence or impact.  County officials can do little to affect national policy, but neither can we count on so called leaders in Washington DC to do the right thing.  What county officials can do, is to guard the freedoms, rights and values of distinct communities, while administering something close to justice in matters of land use and law.  We know them best of all, and thereby have the best chance of electing someone we can count on to represent our needs and address our concerns.

It is in this spirit that I want to encourage less national distraction and more regional focus… and do hereby tender my generalized endorsements:

In local county commission races, I’d always like to see winners demonstrating strong resistance to big government and tacky illuminated billboards, homogenization and control.  I’d like folks that value keeping the West wild… by which I mean wide open spaces and personal liberties over comfort, convenience or profit, kids who know how to climb trees and not just play video games, wilderness where we can encounter our true selves, and architecture that celebrates history and landscape.  I’d root for the success of any school board candidate that put the real feelings, needs and dreams of the students ahead of national dictates and increasing conformity, bureaucratic regulation or the security of their own jobs.  And as for any mayor’s post, it should always be filled by the one who truly cares about their city or town the most.

A sheriff can’t stop every evil or unpleasant act without stomping on the precious few constitutional rights remaining to us common citizens of the Republic… and so I have to support any past, present or future badge wearer who responds whenever they are needed, without trying to over manage the lives of what are meant to be free citizens.  I’m all for those who stop the true evil doers whenever they can, while allowing everyone else their unique ways and proud hearts, those who understand we’re in greater danger of losing our freedom to future governments than being hurt or killed by any thugs they’ve yet to catch.

And when it does come time for the electing of national figures and presidential hopefuls, I think I’ll be withholding my endorsement until some big-hipped, big-hearted old grandmothers run.  Grannies know how to be tough when they have to be, breaking up fights between the boys, standing up to bullies, and making sure that Grandpa’s S.S. check comes on time.  When globalized corporate bosses start squeezing the working American, she takes a stick to them.

And whenever not busy kicking ass, a granny would likely impress us with us her caring side: Rolling up her sleeves and doing any work she’s able, all to keep food on the American table.  Making the best of any situation, and loving all of creation.  Opening her heart and listening to every woman, man, girl or boy… sensing their pain and sharing their joy.  Providing a comforting lap to any lost or wayward child, and teaching hardheads like me to be just a lil’ more meek and mild.  She’d care not just so much about financial growth as the personal satisfaction of her people, their health and freedom to help treat each other and themselves, how everyone’s garden is growing and how clear the skies, about the fate of abused children and the dieback of monarch butterflies, legislative threats to what’s left of our Constitutional rights and the fate of unique lifestyles.

Until then, we just might be better off giving our attention to the more local elections… and to what are our allies and neighbors, with the right predilections!

(Written for Wolf’s upcoming book tentatively titled “The Town That Waves”.  Forward and Post Freely)

(Post and Forward Freely)

A Town’s Sad Tale: The Time To Act is Always Now, Avoiding Regrets Later – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The following is another post such as will appear in the future Libertarian/Rewilding website magazine, unnamed as yet, and so for now called “The Straight Shot.”  These will consistently feature opinion, sentiment, history and a call to personal responsibility and action.  Read, and Spread Freely.

A Town’s Sad Tale

The time to act is always now… avoiding regrets later

Exactly 210 miles due north of my backwoods New Mexico home sits the little frontier town of Telluride, nested between the peaks of Colorado’s beautiful San Juans.  It reportedly got its name from the muleskinners yelling “To hell you ride!” as they maneuvered the racing freight wagons down the treacherously steep mountain.  Nine out of ten wagons made it into the village.  One out of ten plummeted off the cliffs.

Long after the mines played out and the only road was paved, it was still quite an effort and an adventure to get there.  Like my nearby village of Reserve, it’s located hundreds of miles from a city of any size.  The roads are twisty, the mountain passes are icy and dangerous in the Winter, and a lonely driver spends hours in his car between cafes and gas stations.  No one wound up there by mistake or on whim.  If you made it to Telluride it was because you really, really wanted to be there!  This was a great benefit to the fourth and fifth generation locals there, who liked to see a little money trickle into the community, but who were always glad the crowds didn’t get too big, and usually smiled with relief when the last tourists left.

For years folks parked in the middle of Main St. to exchange the latest gossip.  And while people complained about the price of food at the only grocery store, they were glad not to have to go to the “darn city” to stock up.  People played softball, attended socials, held dances and celebrated their remote, mountain defined culture.

By the 1960’s the town had started to change but there was no real crime there most of the time.  Sure, there were a large number of heavy drinkers and a few philanderers, but everybody knew who the only thief in town was, and he was more or less tolerated so long as he only stole from well-heeled “touristas.”  The locals hunted the plentiful deer whenever they needed meat, and the Sheriff’s main duties involved helping tipsy saloon patrons walk the two block to their home.  By the 1980’s they were getting pretty well known for their Summer bluegrass festival, but it was still a real adventure for anyone to make the trip, no matter where the heck they were starting from.  Of course, a few well-heeled land developers started talking about the need to “overcome Telluride’s primitive isolation,” but no one really believed things would ever change… or, at least, that they would change so fast.

Until the first airstrip went in, that is.  Suddenly it required neither obsession nor perseverance to make one’s pilgrimage to this special place, and anybody with the price of a ticket could check their golf clubs with the Denver Airport baggage handlers after work on Friday, and by evening be sipping marguerites in sight of Telluride’s scenic waterfall in the heart of the of the once unspoiled San Juans.  Suddenly, instead of intrepid souls and wild eyed adventurers planning for months to make the sojourn of a lifetime, nothing more was required than a momentary whim.  You can easily imagine the tone of the nattily dressed Salt Lake City lawyer or trendy Berkeley bartender, worried most about the area hotel rooms not being modern enough, or the local clubs sufficiently hopping: “I just can’t seem to decide where to go this weekend, and you know how easily bored I get… maybe I’ll buzz over to check out Telluride.”

As a direct result of such newfound convenience, longtime resident’s homes were soon bought out at inflated prices and turned into shops full of “Indian” crafts, souvenir snow globes with clearly drowned plastic skiers, and paintings of the nice way the place used to look before the ski resort spread out.  Swiss Chalets quickly overshadowed the historic log cabins and vintage Victorian style houses.  And worst of all, those apartments for part-timers they call “condominiums” started sprouting up everywhere one looked, like boils on a burn victim.  As a result, people who arrived with the intention of  having an experience in nature found themselves spending all too much of their June in chlorine-filled pools, or sitting in front of the TV’s in their rented rooms.

If that wasn’t enough, the community soon found itself in a major battle over the expansion of the airport, proposed in order to make it possible for small private jets to land.  Environmentalist ski-bums joined with old time ranchers in opposing the plan, but they may have waited too long to band together and resist the changes that were being forced on them.  When it was over, a handful of big-dollar lawyers and investors had effectively bought out or overcome the will of the locals and construction began.  As a consequence, real estate prices rapidly soared.  A good amount of money was made by those who sold their beloved homes and moved away, and those trying desperately to hang on soon found the annual land taxes had gone up to high for them to pay.  Everyday workers were losing their houses to “second home” buyers from from out of state.  They found themselves living in and commuting from Sawpit and Placerville, a 30 minute or more commute from the place where they actually wanted to sleep.

Today the town is not only gussied up but generally gentrified.  The sidewalks are sparkly clean, buildings have been nicely restored and the signs freshly painted.  Unfortunately, the few kids from local bloodlines that still hang out there are stuck with pouring bubbly water for thirsty restaurant patrons.  We find them maintaining the ski lifts in their tee shirts ironically festooned with corporate advertisement, or wearing little white caps to keep the grease out of their hair while flipping veggie burgers for their Winnebago driving patrons.  I remember one ol’ gal, still pissed off about what they’d done to her little town and their once way of life.  I can recall her looking past the blinking traffic lights and three story condos to the storm clouds forming and fuming just above the mountain.  “If only we would have could have done something sooner!” she growled.  “If only we’d seen it coming…”

And “it” is on its way, no matter where you live or may ever visit, to all the places that you might love just as they are: The scenery, transformed not by art or need but by a clumsier hand, into fabrications of the tacky visions of advertising executives with predictable post modern tastes.  The rural, recreational or agrarian culture you may have valued, not vanquished but sidelined, diluted, marginalized, and finally infiltrated, perverted and appropriated.  The Old Town section of your favorite city, with its park or plaza, narrow streets lined with hawking vendors and busking musicians torn down as part of some hallucinatory scheme.  The neighborhood with big yards where children play and flower gardens flourish, inexorably inundated with poured concrete and molten asphalt the way that Hawaiian volcanoes lay claim to nearby schoolyards with their suffocating lava.  The precious quiet, awaiting like a politically correct pacifist for a future mugging by the abrasive tenor of constantly arriving aircraft and consistently congested traffic.  The building of new airports were there were none, but also the swallowing of smaller airports where you may have enjoyed watching takeoffs and landings as a kid, by the broad security perimeters of giant mega-airports.  And you can’t say that you didn’t see it coming… once you’ve had forceful denial and comforting delusion dashed by this unenviable article.

We rightly get angry about those harmful and unbeauteous things that we have no influence over, yet by my reckoning, we need only regret that which we fail act on or respond to.  We’ll certainly have little cause to regret later those things that we successfully – or even unsuccessfully – repelled or resisted now.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

To read an excellent article on urban guerrilla gardening, sidewalk reclamation and the garden as protest, we recommend checking out:

The Wild Eyed Zealot: Revolution as a ReWilding of Rigid Systems – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

At the Anima School we’ve turned a large percentage of conventional definitions and understandings on their heads.  By our reckoning, the power of the federal authorities derives from the states’, the state’s from the counties’, and the communities’ from the individual.  And most importantly, we insist that all authority derives from within – from our wild, awakened and unconquered selves – and with this self-authority comes a great responsibility to act.

The Wild Eyed Zealot:
Revolution as a ReWilding of Rigid Systems

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet,” the wild-eyed zealot asked the gathered crowd at the very top of his voice, “as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”  His audience appeared excited by his words, a few recoiling at the implications, the others surging forward in passionate agreement.  His long locks tossed one way and then the next, as he alternately pounded on a nearby table and punched the air with his fist.  Sweat poured down the man’s face as he called not just for support for his cause and the breaking of laws, but for the forceful intervention of his God on the side of his fellow lawbreakers.  His speeches were so vitriolic, his demands so uncompromising, and his references to violence so unveiled as to have gotten him quickly arrested post-Oklahoma City courthouse bombing and the terrorists’ toppling of New York City’s Twin Towers.  But even then, he managed to earn himself a place high up on the authorities’ “watch list”, thanks to his inflammatory rhetoric and especially his public statements about being ready to both kill and die for his beliefs.  According to witnesses, he showed less concern for his welfare or that of others than to the pursuit of his singular goal, leading even some of his allies to question his sanity… though both his friends and foes held him largely responsible for the deadly conflagration that followed.

It wasn’t a rancorous Moslem cleric, however, stirring up the surging throngs.  Nor was it a bomb planting ecoterrorist or green anarchist who stood up to denounce the vested government and preach resistance to centralized authority on that fateful day, daring to encourage an insurrection while knowing full well how many on both sides would be hurt.   It was Patrick Henry, fomenting revolution against the English crown in 1775, helping usher in a new nation originally dedicated to the preservation of individual freedoms, ending his presentation with just the kind of remark that could be used against him in a court of law: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Nor was Henry the only unreasonable advocate of freedom during this country’s formative years.  “What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?,” asked President Thomas Jefferson, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  What he was calling for was not just a single case of a country remaking itself, but of a full on revolution once every 20 years or less!

“Government is not reason.  It is not eloquence,” George Washington wrote, “It is force.  And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

These famous founders knew then what we would do well to remember today: that the biggest threat against human liberty comes not from foreign governments but from our own.  The Bill of Rights was written to guard the rights to assemble, speak and worship freely, bear arms and so forth, against the potential of a future American government unmindful of and unconcerned with the freedoms and prerogatives of the average citizen… and worse yet, where the citizens forget their history and fail to understand its implications.

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people,” Patrick Henry is also quoted as saying, “it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

Their idea of of a governments purpose was limited to calling an army in times of war, spending little of the people’s money and resources, and regulating even less.  As Jefferson explained, “A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement – and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned – this is the sum of good government.”  If still alive, he would no doubt be one of the first to decry both the U.S. national debt, and the accumulation of federal powers at the expense of the states, counties and citizens.  The country should be managed by and for the individual and the individual community.  “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone,“ he made clear, “The people themselves are its only safe depositories.”

I am against most if not all war, for cultural diversity and conservation of wild places, but I am not a Liberal.  Liberal thinking has us turning over our power and sovereignty to an ever more omnipotent government in exchange for specific and usually temporary social benefits.  The Democrats have been as bad as the Republicans in this regard, with one administration after another using fear as a tool to solidify their position and pervert the Constitution.  President Lincoln used fear of a divided nation and tales of a portending race war, George Bush the younger fanned fears of terrorists on every corner in order to win support for draconian new laws.  “Fear is the foundation of most governments,” as John Adams wrote way back in 1776.  He was being overly hopeful, however, when he said fear was “so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.”

Over 200 years ago, Jefferson had already identified many of the factors and institutions that would prove to be the undoing of this country for centuries after.  “I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies,” he opined.  “Already they have raised up a moneyed aristocracy that has set the government at defiance. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

Interestingly, in the period that Jefferson was alive a “conservative” was actually a proponent of a single State-backed church and punishing taxes, the monarchy and its feudal order of peons and kings.   To the contrary, at the time a “liberal” was a person aiming to dismantle all of these things and substitute republican government, free trade and limited representative taxation, as well as the separation of church and state!

And I do not mean to make our “Founding Fathers” appear perfect, only insightful or in retrospect prophetic.  Thomas Jefferson, lover of flowers and gardens, concealed his affairs with a black slave that he kept in spite of his avowed dislike for slavery.  The same Patrick Henry who risked the noose to speak out for liberty, is alleged to have kept his own wife imprisoned in their basement for the last fours years of her life.

If there is anything promising, it the growing number of citizens of all kinds and persuasions who are organizing to resist not just a certain platform, policy or law, but in opposition to the overreaching of government in general.  Certainly, whether you are a liberal or conservative, conservationist or developer,  businessman or backwoodsman like me, nothing could be more dangerous to you and what you love and hold dear than an ever more entrenched, unaffected, unshakable, impervious, insular and powerful political and commercial hierarchy.  Jefferson was insightful, in recognizing that the more stable, and staid an institution or government gets, the less hospitable it becomes to basic human rights, liberty and happiness.  “And what country can preserve its liberties,” he adds, “if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance?”  And as to such revolutions, he was sure of their assignment:  “Leave no authority existing, not responsible to the people.”

The periodic revolution that Jefferson and some of his contemporaries called for, was never meant to be a panacea or end all solution, nor bloodless or even entirely just, but rather a necessary jarring of the mold before the pudding completely sets, a stirring up of the stew that keeps the scum from rising and forming a layer on the top.  It is agitation and disruption of the status quo, with the knowledge that established power corrupts, that established institutions become increasingly unresponsive to their constituents and protective of their position, and that a ruling commercial elite would make all their business decisions based on profit alone rather than an overriding vision or non monetary priorities.  Revolution is the wholesale deconstruction of official edifices and managerial cliques to make room for evolving ideas and common needs, the ritualistic scraping away of the canvas in order to create something potentially better, the knocking over of the house of cards without which no other hands could be dealt.

This is certainly not to glorify revolution, a messy affair at best, usually installing another system little better than the previous.  The advantage is that it slows or halts the pernicious rigidification that happens when existing structures go unabolished and unchallenged.  With each revolution, subsequent incarnations are a little newer, on shakier ground, still beholding to the forces and constituencies that swept it in.  Revolution is what intercedes to prevent the suspension or slow gutting of a Constitution, or that at least seeks to remedy such appropriation after the fact.  Forget all the ways the word has been debased, from a revolutionary new swimsuit and a green revolution to a revolution in furniture design.  Revolution is the alarming dissolution of order and a temporary end to imagining we’re ever really safe and secure.  It is a period of self preservation, affinity and tribal alliance, of every person needing the basic skills once allotted to tradesmen and specialists, of the chaotic social interactions that follow the collapse of social hierarchy, the devaluing of the privileged and the revaluing of folks with core character qualities and essential skills.  It’s the suspension of the forces of domestication, the precious moment of what I term “rewilding”, when the senses are awakened and every moment appears decisive, when the needs of local communities take precedence over the desires of the nation, when the land gets a break from our organized expansion, and when each person is an authority unto themselves with nobody lording over them.  It is a time when death can be seen close by on the sidelines, but when life is roused and stimulated to the utmost degree!

“Freedom had been hunted round the globe,” Thomas Paine wrote in his Rights of Man in 1791.  “Reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think.  But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.”  A liberty, I must point out, that comes not without risk and cost.  Nor is it a price paid only once by our forebears, it has to be paid by each following generation, and by each individual in turn.

Like Ned Ludd rising against the automation of the industrial age, I side with the craftsmen and craftswomen revolting against the factory owners in a bid to preserve not only their jobs but the craftsmanship that can only come with something hand tended and hand made, and I too gladly toss my wooden soled shoes into the gears of the machine.  That said, I neither seek nor laud conflict, and there are moral limits to my means of opposition to all but the most personalized injustices and attacks.  Nevertheless, I will not allow myself to become an accomplice to an increasingly oppressive and invasive government and cultural paradigm through either my silent participation or disempowering resignation.  We know that if the likes of a Ned Ludd, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson were writing opinion blogs right now, they and their readers would find their selves under investigation… but that I’d be reading and spreading their messages regardless.

And revolution, for all its ominous tone, great importance and even urgency, is also a beautiful and amazing thing, a rewilding of institutions that makes possible the wild blooming of our selves.  It is potentially an event of apparent magic and much needed miracles.  As Paine was so good to point out in his Common Sense in 1776, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”


(Please forward and post this piece widely)

Because It’s Good For You: On Authority, Certification & Law – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Preface: Thank you for the dozen requests for my recent piece on the topic of authority.  I hesitated to run it here only because it was written in the intemperate tone I relax into when writing from a rural or general audience, rather than the less expletive ridden and hopefully more professional tone and language of our Animá articles and books.  I would like it if you not only learned and were inspired by the following, but if you were to enjoy it as well.  -JWH

Anima Logo & Words-Green5.2"72dpi

Because It’s Good For You:
Insurgent Thoughts On Authority, Certification & Law

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

My advice is not to trust all authority, but to find the authority in ourselves
to know who and what to trust!

“Because I told you so!” was the answer I often got as a youngster, when – from parents and teachers alike – I’d routinely ask the reasons for what it was I was being told to do.  If the adults in charge had simply explained the reasoning behind the order, custom, protocol,  tradition or rule, there’s a chance I would have a considered it the beneficial and honorable thing to do.  But telling me “because I told you so” is like saying “because I’m bigger than you,” “older than you,” “better connected than you,” or “better armed than you.”  This is the limited reasoning and self justification of bullies, whether it be an expansionist empire or playground antagonists.  Having such advantages might mean that they can make us do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s right to force us to bend or conform, nor does it mean that the ways they want us to behave are necessarily good or just for us, the human spirit, the things we cherish or the larger world.  I wouldn’t buy it back then, I’m not buying it now.  I would have much preferred the exhortations of the wise and caring mother, the caretaker, the healer: “Because it’s good for you!”  And even then, I would have wanted to know exactly why, how, and under what circumstances and amounts any medicine or course of action might be best for me.

I was willing to heed, but not heel.  And what I most readily heeded was counsel and direction from people who clearly knew more than me, who were more experienced and appeared to have grown or learned something from their experiences, who acted out of a deep sense of caring and strong set of principles, with allegiance to truth and to justice.  As a teen runaway, I took advice from old bikers on which year Harley-Davidsons had the coolest ride, and I had no objection to coming to a stop when ordered to by a life-saving traffic cop.  I kept the counsel of well meaning hobos who had “been around the block,” trading normalcy and security for a life of minor privation and immense freedom.  I took to heart the lecture of a drawling rural Sheriff who kindly counseled me not to do stupid illegal things I didn’t even believe in, and from a confirmed outlaw who talked about it being just as important to break those laws that we know to be “wrong-headed” or unconstitutional.

That I could respect and listen to individuals on both sides of the law, is an indication of how little significance I placed on costume and insignia.  Then as now, I couldn’t understand the military expression “salute the uniform, not the man.”  A person who was worthy of being respected, listened to and followed seems just as worthy to me whether out of uniform, off duty, retired or fired!   Conversely, those unwise or unworthy in character remain ignorant and unworthy regardless of what official clothing they might don, or what agency or administration finances and directs them.  And just because something is either mandated or banned in one of the hundreds of thousands of laws that govern every aspect of our civilized lives, doesn’t make it right… nor make it honorable for us to obey.

Authority is simply not something that a government or agency can give someone.  Genuine authority cannot be “vested” as they say, it can only be earned.  And because it has to be earned, it can also be undermined through unfair application, squandered away on superfluous regulation, and overturned if based on or upheld by false premise and manipulative lies.  It’s not authority without the weight of truth, it is only base imposition and oppression.  And the problem with exercising power over someone or something, is that it only works so long as enough pressure can be put on.  Somewhere, sooner or later there is a break, a lapse or loophole through which not only truth and liberty but all kinds of trouble can arise.  The wife-abuser is only really in control until he falls asleep, as a number of angry men have found out to their horror.  The schoolyard bully can hold you down with a head-lock for only just so long, the second he stops to rest there’s nothing except possibly fear or self doubt to prevent you from retaliating or remedying.

If there is authority in a truth, standard or directive, it retains its influence without mandates, manipulation and control.  It rings true when we are alone and our acts unwitnessed, as surely as when we are being closely monitored or working under the gun.  When such is the case, we do not need the force of law to rein in our actions nor compel us to act.  As herbalists, it isn’t certification that determines how effective we are, it’s our actions, means and results, and government inspection of plant medicines will never be the reason why we seek to use the finest quality and teach the safest methods and amounts.

We’re unlikely to ravage and steal even though no one is watching and there may be no price to be paid, if we feel deeply that rape or theft are wrong.  And hopefully, we don’t obediently toe the line, surrender our rights and liberties, compromise our beliefs and march to the orders of the established powers… just because they happen to control the military and the most awesome weapons ever developed, will soon have video surveillance cameras on every street corner, have planted informants among every activist group and provocateurs in every citizen militia, wield a court system that functions to protect the elite and punish the independent, can count on the connivance of “new world order” strategists and the support of multinational financiers, and have made the building of new jails and penitentiaries the fasting growing industry in America.  I agree with the prickly ex-Colonel in the movie Legends of the Fall, and his feelings regarding this nation’s ruling administration and its morally compromised minions: “Screw ‘em,” he said in a voice slurred by a powerful but obviously not debilitating stroke. “Screw ’em!”

The origin of the word “authority” is from the Latin auctoritas, from the word auctor which means both “originator” and “promoter.”  Our authority is our ability to affect and influence, as parents and teachers, craftspeople and gardeners, artists and healers.  It is a result of what we put forward and promote, and as such, it can only originate with us.


(Share and post liberally.  To learn more, go to the Writings and Correspondence Course pages of the Animá School website at: