Backtalk

Our September/October issue certainly got people talking: Walter Truett Anderson's essay, "There's No Going Back to Nature," upset some of our best-known environmental voices, including Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, while our exposés angered Amway and Freeport-McMoRan. Meanwhile, an essay by Thomas Moore prompted a little soul-searching.

BACK TO NATURE

If societies were incapable of surprising shifts and turns, if religions and philosophies, languages, and clothing never changed, we'd surely have to grimly crunch away in the same old story and eventually drown in some sort of Blade Runner-type movie. Walter Truett Anderson ("There's No Going Back to Nature," September/October) seems to assume that the track we're on will go forever and nobody will learn much. He provides some excellent information, he is clearly sincere, but it's basically the same old engineering, business, and bureaucracy message with its lank rhetoric of data and management.

The oh-so-foolish deep ecologists, greens, ecofeminists, etc., are out there -- at almost no cost to the system -- providing imagination, vision, passion, a deeply felt ethical stance, and in many cases some living examples of practice. The ethical position that would accord intrinsic value to non-human nature, and would see human beings as involved in moral as well as practical choices in regard to the natural world, makes all the difference.

I have no quarrel with restoring creeks, crunching understory fuel load, logging out genuinely sick trees, hanging out counting the frogs in the creek, taping owl calls, piling up data in the workstation, and all that. I do it myself. If it's done with the commodity mind, you might as well be managing a concentration camp. If it's done with the mind of the natural neighborhood, with the intimacy that comes with knowing yourself as a member of the ecosystem, then those very same chores are a matter of working with and learning from the non-human critters in the 'hood. It becomes a collaboration, a feast, a memorial gathering, a ceremony. This is what deep ecology is about. The ethic of concern for all beings including the non-human, incidentally, is not just some invention of New Agers, Norwegian philosophers, or Native American academicians, but is anciently and deeply rooted worldwide, going back for millennia. Buddhism and much of Hinduism put this ethic at the top of their list of precepts.

I think it's clear, in this election campaign year, we can't afford to trash any values. They'll all come in handy.

Mr. Anderson quotes me correctly -- from a mid-'80s issue of Sierra magazine where I spoke on bioregions and place. And indeed I do believe that more people staying put, learning their place, and taking on some active role, would improve our social and ecological life. I said people should try to become "paysans, paisanos, peones," meaning people of the land, people of the place. But note: I didn't specify how big the place can be. The size of place one becomes a member of is limited only by the size of one's heart. We speak of watershed consciousness, and the great water cycle of the planet makes it all one watershed. We are all natives to this earth. Yet one has to start where one is and become nature-literate to the scale of the immediate home place. With home-based knowledge, it is then within our power to get a glimpse of the planet as home. As a rule though, local knowledge (combined with an understanding of the dynamics of systems) remains the most useful, and the most delicious.

No one ever said that "don't move" means you can't go on trips -- peasants of Japan, religious devotees of India have always gone on long pilgrimages to the mountains after harvest was over. The thing is, even when on a trip, you are always clear as to where you came from. We can be thankful that bioregional practice is more sophisticated than some replay of the medieval village. Since it is a line of thought for the future, it calls us to be ecologically and culturally cosmopolitan, hip to the plant and weather zones of the whole world, as well as to the cuisine and architecture.

As for technology: Smarter bombs, faster computers, and quieter chainsaws certainly have their place. The struggle for the integrity of the environment will need good tools -- the good guys want their computers to be as big and fast as those of the bad guys. Understandably. But though weapons win battles, they don't win the peace. Peace is won by winning hearts and minds. Watershed imagining, bioregional ideas of governance, the actual existence of communities that include the non-human in their embrace, myths of ecological justice, the thought of enlightenment -- all this nutty ancient stuff is a matter of engaging hearts and minds.

GARY SNYDER
NEVADA CITY, CALIF.

It is impossible to reply in a few hundred words to all of Walter Truett Anderson's essay, because he deals with too many subjects too superficially, dismissing what he has not troubled to present.

To say, for example, that I "merely want to get back to the agricultural lifestyles of a few decades past" is the tritest thing he could have said about my work, and it is a barefaced misrepresentation of what I have written. (Maybe I misled him by failing to condemn some things that are old and small.)

Mr. Anderson clearly does not understand the nature of public dialogue in a democratic society, in which we are free to be wrong, if we are wrong, because others are free to correct us. In a free society, there can be no such thing as "poisoning the dialogue."

Nobody with the least understanding of the various writers and groups mentioned by Mr. Anderson could possibly reduce them all to a single "ideology." On the basis of my own limited acquaintance with those writers and groups, I know there are some radical divergences among them; they are, in fact, participants in a lively public dialogue. They can appear as fellow ideologues to Mr. Anderson only because he sees them as obstructions to "environmental management on a...global scale," which is apparently to be carried out by corporations, governments, and foundations.

But perhaps Mr. Anderson is not so worried about the obstructionists -- and perhaps he does not exactly mean "management" -- after all, for underneath his partisanship and his hankering to silence the opposition, he is a technological determinist. The public dialogue might as well be "poisoned," for it is of no use: What we arguers are up against, his faith instructs him, is "an irreversible evolutionary transition." Mr. Anderson's essay is in fact a familiar genre piece, asserting for the 10,000th time that whatever happens is inevitable, and "you can't turn back the clock." Perhaps, if we have heard of the history of empires, we need not be much encumbered by any doctrine of the "irreversibility" of human affairs.

Mr. Anderson ignores the existence of countless families and groups all over the world, which, without waiting for anybody's permission or help, are doing what they can to recover some measure of self-determination from the corporations, governments, and foundations. They are working to preserve the integrity of local life. Perhaps they do not think of themselves as "an irreversible evolutionary transition," but they are not ignorant or stupid or backward-looking; they work cheap, and they intend to be on hand.

WENDELL BERRY
PORT ROYAL, KY.

Walter Truett Anderson scorns deep ecology and belittles Wendell Berry and the "neo-Luddites" as simply wanting to "get back to the agricultural lifestyles of a few decades past," or even back to the Middle Ages.

I have had my own beef with Berry ever since I read in an essay of his the unequivocal indictment of New York City as unsustainable. I happen to love New York, and I believe that if we can't make New York, and Mexico City, and Manila sustainable, we will have lost the battle for the human soul.

But I also know what Berry meant, and I don't believe for a minute that he "ducks all the problems" that come with power, as Anderson scolds. Sustainability has to be about subway systems, high-density living, and garbage disposal, as much as about organic farming. But it also has to be about the soul, and the nourishment human beings get from the Earth, from a grove of trees, from a waterfall, or the pounding surf. Ecology has to include human beings.

One cannot contest Anderson's central point, that we all live with technology no matter how simply we live. Nor can we escape the obvious evolution of the human capacity to manipulate (and destroy) the life forms on the planet. But we should not confuse manipulation with understanding, and we should never fall into the trap of accepting all progress as good. Yes, it's lovely that we had the technology capable of detecting the hole in the ozone layer, but if it weren't for other technology "advances," we would not have created the hole in the first place.

BARBARA DUDLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GREENPEACE USA
WASHINGTON, D.C.

Yo, Walter, wake up. You suggest that modern-day environmentalists will soon become irrelevant, as their pathetic protestations for going "back to nature" won't save our ecosystems. Although our movement came out of a '60s liberalism, it has moved far beyond it. I, for example, was born post-Woodstock, and have always embraced technology as a way of preserving the environment.

I become nervous whenever someone begins to tell me that we can manage the planet better than nature can. We need technology. We also need to trust nature's own systems for regeneration. Our forests were "managing" just fine before we got here.

ADAM WERBACH, PRESIDENT
SIERRA CLUB
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIF.

Anderson makes a compelling case that we have no real choice for the future but to actively manage our environment, that leaving nature alone is no longer an option. Yet Anderson sidesteps the most difficult and important question: Manage our environment to what end?

Agreeing that we must exercise power over nature is no guarantee that we will exercise it well. "Proactive environmentalists" of the future like Anderson are just as likely as the polluting exploiters of the past to take a short-term, anthropocentric, utilitarian view. What is needed, as Aldo Leopold said a half- century ago, is a "land ethic" by which to guide our management of creation.

The measure, by this ethic, of the new protean environmentalism should be in its results: Does it create sustaining ecological processes across bioregional landscapes in which humans lead lives of economic and spiritual fulfillment?

While the landscapes and processes may be altered, they must be dynamic, evolving, and unpredictable; in other words, they must be alive. And each such place must have its citizens who knowingly depend on it for their material and spiritual well-being. Without these corresponding advances in our ethic, there's no reason for Anderson's optimism about the "new environmentalism" of the future.

MARK VAN PUTTEN, PRESIDENT
NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION
VIENNA, VA.

Walter Truett Anderson responds: I don't see much point in quarreling with Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, both of whom I admire and neither of whom, I suspect, is about to do any serious re-examination of his positions. Although I do think that if Wendell really believes the presence of internal squabbles means something isn't an ideology, he ought to go study up on an ideology or two.

I have been an environmentalist most of my life, and proudly remain one, and invite anybody who is interested to hunt up some of my earlier works on environmental politics, Buddhism, and humanistic psychology. The opinions I expressed in my article are the result of a maturing of those ideas and values, not an abandonment of them. I hope somebody heard what I was trying to say, and that I am not the only person in the world who finds it possible to simultaneously love nature and gag on deep ecology.

Adam Werbach's comment was kind of silly and indicates he is either unwilling or unable to grapple responsibly with these issues. But Mark Van Putten asks the right question: Management to what end? Somebody's survival? Somebody's profit? Somebody's idea of beauty? Protection of a species or ecosystem? Resemblance to an earlier, "unmanaged" state? Which state? Those are the questions we will need to be asking, again and again, and honestly answering. But, however we answer them, those answers will be human ones, reflecting human opinions, human wisdom, human fallibility. All ecosystems are subject to human management now -- and will be as far into the future as any of us can see. That is the disturbing reality of our time that no amount of green flag-waving is going to dispel.

AMERICA'S SOUL

As a longtime Mother Jones reader, I have to say thanks for Thomas Moore's showing us the other side of the coin, the troubled state of our individual and national soul ("Does America Have a Soul?" September/October). I have been part of the so-called liberal Christian clergy for 40 years. Unfortunately, I have too often fit his description: "Liberalism continues to cherish its deism, agnosticism, and secularism..." One can only guess how many wars and other upheavals are the result of unresolved wars within troubled souls. Perhaps Mother Jones' Hellraisers had also better be Peacemakers, not only opposed to military spending, but engaged in affirming the sacred found in all of ordinary human life. Shalom.

GENE BIRMINGHAM
BENSENVILLE, ILL.

WHO'S SPINNING WHOM?

In Robert Bryce's article ("Spinning Gold," September/October) your first words -- those intended to characterize the article for your readers -- are these: "By keeping journalists away... [Freeport] has managed to put its spin..." on news reports about us. Early in the story, the author writes, "Freeport has managed to restrict media access." Both of those statements are patently false.

Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold has one of the most open communications policies of any mining company in the world. Over 100 journalists toured through our operations last year, including CNN, the BBC, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, Australian Broadcasting Corp., and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. We made this known in our July 25 letter to you. This was also known to the author and to the fact-checker of the article, yet you chose to deliberately misrepresent the facts in order to put your own spin on the news. Today, as I respond to this ludicrous charge, which you made the essential point of your story, we are hosting a team at our mine from Agence France-Presse.

Moreover, as you flay us for allegedly keeping media out, you cite the story and photographs done by National Geographic after their visit and include a photograph taken by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, showing a young boy with mud on his head in the Ajkwa River. Your caption, however, fails to track the original in the Times-Picayune, which noted that placing mud on the head is an indigenous tribal custom.

Your magazine prides itself on being a publisher of top-notch investigative journalism, yet our experience has shown your work to be careless and partisan. Let me cite these examples: No one contacted us on behalf of Mother Jones before the story was already written, its thrust and outcome predetermined. At that point, we were not contacted by an experienced journalist, but by an intern who identified himself as a fact-checker.

When we asked who the author was, we were first told that there was no reporter, that the story was, instead, a compilation from other sources. Then another individual told us it was the magazine's policy not to identify reporters, because it makes it "more exciting." On July 31, which we were told was two days before final deadline, we were informed by your magazine that the "reporter" on the article was Robert Bryce. We stand by these statements and can verify them.

We invite any of your readers interested in truth and fairness to look for our point-by-point rebuttal of "Spinning Gold" on the Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold World Wide Web site (http://www.fcx.com).

GARLAND ROBINETTE
FREEPORT-MCMORAN
NEW ORLEANS, LA.

The editors respond: Robinette is correct when he says the boys bathing in the Ajkwa River became covered with mine tailings during a ritual, not simply by swimming in the river. We apologize if our caption suggests otherwise.

Robert Bryce tried repeatedly to contact Garland Robinette and Freeport-McMoRan while writing his story. No one returned his calls. We do not conceal reporters' identities to make a story "more exciting." After a Mother Jones fact-checker repeatedly tried to speak with Freeport officials to confirm the information in this story, Robinette told him that if the reporter was Bryce, Freeport would not cooperate with us.

Bryce must have been an exception to "one of the most open communications policies of any mining company in the world." So too must have been Bill Elder, of New Orleans' WWL-TV, who says he was blocked from entering Indonesia after refusing to leave his cameras behind. What kind of "open" communications policy refuses to let TV reporters bring their cameras? And the photographer whose work appeared in National Geographic asked that we not use his photographs because he feared he would not be able to return to Irian Jaya if they appeared with a story too critical of Freeport.

Other exceptions to Freeport's "open communications" policy must include the eight academics and journalists (including Bryce) whom Freeport has threatened with lawsuits after they raised the same concerns about Freeport we did. In the past two years, at least one report has charged Freeport's mining operation with wholesale environmental destruction; two others investigated human rights abuses committed near the mine by the company's business partner, the corrupt regime of Indonesia's President Suharto; and a fourth raised questions about Freeport's role in military abuses.

Robinette and Freeport's refusal to address these concerns -- the essential point of the story -- is startling.

AMWAY'S HARD SELL

I have been a subscriber and a faithful reader for most of the past 20 years. I am a staunch liberal and have voted Democratic in every national and statewide election since 1976. I, with my husband, am also an Amway distributor and have been for just short of a year. I therefore read your piece on Rep. Sue Myrick and her Amway connection ("She Did It Amway," by Rachel Burstein and Kerry Lauerman, September/October) with great interest. I am, of course, well aware of the conservative politics and Christian fundamentalism of Amway's founders and many of their top distributors. However, when I signed my application, and when I receive my bonus checks, I was not -- and am not -- asked who or how I worship, or whom I plan to vote for in the next election.

Your article states, "Amway measures a distributor's success by how many products the person sells and by the size of the distributor's Ôdownline.'" You make that sound like a bad thing. Amway is in business to sell products, after all, and their products are at least as good as anything else in the marketplace. Also, my line of sponsorship does not emphasize selling as much as self-consumption. That is, each distributor buys products through his or her business, and teaches others to do the same.

I wonder if you made any effort to contact any successful distributors, other than Dexter Yager [who] is, in my opinion, extremely eccentric. I do occasionally receive messages from him in which he rails against socialism or prays fervently for various causes. I ignore these messages, and any distributor is free to do the same.

I realize that this business isn't for everyone. If I ever do quit, it will be because I don't have what it takes to be a success at it. I've seen too many examples of good, caring people who are making it work to be persuaded that it can't be done.

JOANNE DAVIDSON
NEW MILFORD, CONN.

We read with dismay the recurring errors in your article ("She Did It Amway"). We would refute them point by point, but already have done so through numerous fact-checking interviews and written corrections, and yet Mother Jones persisted in publishing these errors. Let us make a few crucial points:

  • Your use of the term "Amway" to refer to both the corporation and its independent distributors confuses the issue for your readers. The article's references to contributions to Rep. Sue Myrick's election campaign "from" or "through" Amway are incorrect. Amway Corp. did not contribute any money to Rep. Sue Myrick, nor did it serve as a collection point for her campaign funds.
  • Amway Corp. does not require its distributors to purchase any products, as erroneously claimed in your story.
  • Direct-selling is an $18 billion industry in the United States and generates sales of $68 billion worldwide. Amway Corp. is an industry leader and serves as an example of a credible, legitimate direct-sales company. In fact, the FTC ruled that "Amway...is not a pyramid distribution scheme" (in the Matter of Amway Corporation, Inc., et al., 93 FTC 618 [1979]). The Amway Sales and Marketing Plan has since been recognized and cited by federal and state courts as the example to follow for multilevel marketing plans.

KIMBERLY A. BRUYN, SENIOR MANAGER
AMWAY CORP. PUBLIC RELATIONS
ADA, MICH.

Rachel Burstein and Kerry Lauerman respond: Please check your facts. Amway's corporate PAC gave Sue Myrick's 1994 House campaign a $500 contribution on September 7, 1994, and gave her current campaign another $500 on July 25, 1995, according to federal election records.

Far more significantly, Amway Crown Ambassador Dexter Yager apparently used Amway voice mail and rallies to organize 171 distributors and their family members to contribute $178,660 to Rep. Sue Myrick's campaign.

Using corporate resources for political lobbying is a violation of campaign law unless it's reported as an "in-kind" contribution to the Federal Election Commission by either the individual or the company. The use of Amway voice mail and rallies to help elect Myrick was not reported either by Yager or Amway.

We did not write that Amway requires its distributors to purchase Amway products. We reported that, as more than a dozen former Amway distributors told us, they were expected to purchase products from Amway every month, usually about $200 worth. (Amway distributor Joanne Davidson's preceding letter also supports this point when she writes: "my line of sponsorship does not emphasize selling as much as self-consumption.")

Finally, we understand your concern at being characterized as a "pyramid" scheme. That allegation, however, did not appear in our article.

NEW YORK UNDER FIRE

No state in the nation has experienced such a dramatically deleterious turnaround in its public health policy toward tobacco and smoking as has New York since Gov. George Pataki took office two years ago. Pataki, with the acquiescence of state Health Commissioner Barbara DeBuono, has abandoned New York's historic efforts to protect our children and the public at large from the dangers of tobacco use.

Perhaps this change is not surprising when you look at the hefty campaign contributions to Pataki and other GOP officeholders ("Tobacco Loves NY," by Jeanne Brokaw, September/October). Enforcement of existing laws targeting sales to underage teens has fallen by the wayside under the Pataki administration. The winners? Big Tobacco. The losers? The people of New York.

Pataki and DeBuono should hang their heads for their inactivity on stopping smoking by children and asserting the health and economic perils of smoking.

ALEXANDER B. GRANNIS (D-ALBANY)
NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY

SHE'S NO ANGEL

Your praise of Rep. Linda Smith (R-Wash.) for her support of campaign finance reform while disregarding her far-right-wing agenda ("Rebel Republican," by Duncan Murrell, September/October) does a serious disservice to your reputation for supporting those who work for progressive social change -- and your opposition to those leading the jihad on environmental protection, civil liberties, social safety nets, etc.

Smith's position on campaign finance reform, while in fact probably better than the status quo, is seriously flawed. She does not favor public financing or free media. Also, while she very conspicuously gives some of the corporate sponsors of this Congress the proverbial finger, she supports the legislation they advocate with unfailing loyalty.

The issue behind campaign finance reform is the influence exerted by large corporate interests at the expense of the public. If they are going to get their way in Congress anyway, exactly what will we have solved?

RUSS LEHMAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
NORTHWEST CENTER FOR PROGRESSIVE RESEARCH
OLYMPIA, WASH.

CORRECTIONS

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