Tuesday, May 03, 2005

GOP-CULTIVATED PROVINCIALISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT

As an avid birdwatcher, I was delighted to hear of an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker sighting! How will the right-wing spin this story? Rather than rejoicing in discovering the continuation of a species of bird thought to be extinct, I suspect they will probably go ahead and use this as "evidence" that their "wise use" approach to the land actually works. I can hear Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly shouting about it already...

I live in northeastern Oregon. While Oregon is a "blue state", the counties east of the Cascade Range might as well be part of Idaho when it comes to politics... out here, GOP candidates usually win by margins of about 2-to-1.

Early loggers in this area tended to take the healthiest and hardiest species, such as the ponderosa pines. We live in a fairly dry climate, and it takes trees years to regenerate around here. The less-hardy species have gradually filled in, setting prime conditions for disease and infestation over large areas. Years of fire-suppression have allowed undergrowth to fill the forests, and there are a lot of dead trees standing in the Blue Mountains from disease and bugs. If things ever catch on fire in the Blue Mountains, the devastation could be catastrophic. I'm in favor of prescribed burns and tree-thinning, but that hasn't happened around here since the Umatilla tribe was managing the forests prior to the late 1800's! The Umatilla people were probably not motivated by money. I find it much more likely they were motivated by a reverence for the land. I doubt there are many timber industry execs today who are motivated by that kind of reverence.

When I lived on Washington's Olympic Peninsula, I used to sit on the bluff above town and watch large ships full of raw timber leave Port Angeles daily for the Orient. It was obvious as to what was shutting down mills. The raw timber was going elsewhere to be milled! Then, as mentioned in a nice article by John Mackay at www.johnmackay.blogspot.com, the Republicans have managed to spin their timber and land-use money-making schemes into an anti-environmental-movement thing. A mill closes, and when an environmentalist shows up to protest the logging of a certain area of old-growth... there we go! Shrewd Republicans jump on this, and suddently the environmentalists have become the reason for the shutdown of the mill!!

In NE Oregon, the GOP has also made inroads re. land-use issues, i.e. "I have all these thousands of acres and now they tell me I can't graze my cattle here because this stream empties into...", etc. (This is true in some cases; landowners can run into economic hardships imposed by land-use rules.) If voters in rural areas perceive their mills are being shut down by "liberals" and that "bad Democrat" are there to tell them what they can or can't do with their land, then the left-wingers are seen as Big Brother by the locals. The GOP successfully spins things toward the right, and subsequently collects votes for their big-government programs! How Rovian!

Anywhere there is a lot of wide-open space, as in the Midwest of the Mountain West, we will now find the "red state" way of thinking on politics. Anywhere there is a large amount of land in agriculture, we will now find "red state" thinking. Any counties in which the timber industry provides significantly for the local economy will vote GOP. Lots of folks in these areas like to hunt; it's a way of life... and because of the generally-perceived Democrat views on gun control, these folks will vote GOP. Republican strategists have done an excellent job securing these areas for the GOP during the last 30 years.

Religion may have something to do with it all too, at least to some extent. There are quite a few fundamentalists in these rural areas, and part of that belief system suggests to some adherents that humans were put on Earth for dominion over nature... that is, if we aren't busy subduing nature, we aren't doing our duty to God. The Earth was put here for us to use, and if we don't use it, we're not doing as instructed. (Thus, if we aren't making money from it, we aren't doing our job!) Adding this to the way the GOP has been infiltrated (ruined, some might say) by religious fundamentalists, folks in the rural areas link up with the GOP on the religion thing too. Hey, if we're going to be raptured soon, why does it matter what we do to the Earth? We won't be around to see what happens, because we've been saved! And we don't feel sorry for those who get "left behind"!

My question to the anti-environmentalism religious folks is always "If God made the Earth as a home for us, then why shouldn't the Earth be treated as God's temple?" This would suggest it does matter what we do the world, that we can go ahead and use the Earth and its resources, sure, but let's do it with some care, maybe even with some reverence.

I like to be optimistic and believe something can be done to get voters in our rural/agricultural/timber areas to consider world and national issues more closely when they vote. While I will never believe it is a lost cause trying to get these "red states" out of their funk, I believe it is a shame how the GOP seems to have manipulated many of these voters into siding with a party that has policies which may, in the long run, actually harm the people more than help them. Consideration of world and national issues is being bypassed in favor of consideration of local issues.

Now hold on here... I am not saying rural Americans are selfish. This is not the case at all. However, I would suggest many of us who live in "red state" areas have become provincial in our outlook. "Provincial" is defined at www.m-w.com in this context: 3. a : a person of local or restricted interests or outlook (or) b : a person lacking urban polish or refinement. I wouldn't suggest rural Americans are lacking polish or refinement, either, as it is certainly not the case in the area where I live. But I would suggest that the GOP, with its methods of conditioning, has snookered lots of our rural voters into having restricted interests or outlooks when it comes to the larger world outside of timber, agriculture, guns, and religion.

That's my two cents worth. I have spent most of my life in a rural timber/ranching/farming area, but after all I'm just a Democrat-voting born-again pagan... so what would I know? Heh.... !

7 Comments:

Blogger J. Marquis said...

Good piece, Snave. I'd have to say that provincialism was one of the main reasons I wanted to move somewhere more populated...

6:12 PM  
Blogger Matt said...

Hey Snave! This is off topic, but I was wondering if you have been to David Lynch's web site lately. He has started doing daily weather reports, it's hilarious. Seemed like something you would appreciate. Hope you are well...

www.davidlynch.com

9:59 PM  
Blogger Sheryl said...

I was just helping my friend Tom brainstorm for a song about the way some people in this country view the environment.

If you have some funny ideas about how these types view the environment, be sure and share your ideas with Tom over at Tom's Stream He's taking the song from the first person from the point of view of those with the attitude that bigger is better and waste is a God given right/virtue.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Excellent post. Rove sure has succeeded in spinning everything around so that the corporations that rape the land are the good guys.

2:35 AM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Snave... I lived in Oregon for many years, so I know what you're talking about.

The loggers were, and still are, blaming the environmentalists for their woes instead of looking at the crap practices of the companies they worked for... Ever fly over the mountains in Oregon and Washington and check out the clear cuts?

Nobody will accept any blame for the falling salmon numbers... surely the dams/chemical runoff from plants/ pesticides from farming/degraded river banks from cattle/commercial fishing/etc... couldn't have anything to do with it! That's just more of them there liberal lies.

Good post...

5:34 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

Right on, Shawn! I used to live on the Olympic Peninsula, and I couldn't believe some of the devastation up that way... The area just south of Olympic National Park looks like a checkerboard from the air. When I lived in that area, there were old clear-cuts that hadn't been replanted, which was bad enough... and some areas of the forests had been logged so many times they were part forest and part brush. The forest can only be clear-cut so many times before it stops regenerating itself in a healthy way. Trees can grow to a loggable size much more quickly west of the Cascades... out east, it can take a forest 50-80 years to mature, and if it gets clear-cut... it most likely ain't coming back.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

My favorite trick is how both Oregon and Washington look like big, giant forests because they leave all the trees standing near the major roads... the clear cuts start back a couple hundred yards, or on the other side of that beautiful tree-covered hill.

The ability of the human mind to block out anything that doesn't fit it's picture of how things are is really quite amazing... How else can Bush in a second term be explained?

Oh... and by all means link me... Keep on writing...

9:08 PM  

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