The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an
Age of Terror
Environmental Studies at Oberlin
From The Last Refuge by David W. Orr.
Copyright © 2004 David W. Orr. Posted to this web site by permission
of Island Press, Washington, D.C.
Although the Central Intelligence Agency could find no evidence for it, nearly
two years after the event 70 percent of Americans reportedly believed Saddam
Hussein was involved in the destruction of the World Trade Towers. Nearly the
same percentage believed weapons of mass destruction were used against American
troops in Iraq. Large numbers of Americans, otherwise well-versed in the details
of their professions, their options as consumers, and the intimate lives of celebrities,
seem befuddled when it comes to politics. We are the most media-saturated but
among the least informed people on Earth.
This is no accident. Increasingly, we are ruled by a plutocracy, distracted by
the entertainment industry, and frequently misinformed by an increasingly concentrated
news media that puts the pursuit of market share above telling the whole truth.
And, part symptom, part cause, we have state legislatures and a Congress with
many members who haven't read widely, thought deeply, or imagined much
beyond their own pecuniary gain. The result is a leadership vacuum on the big
issues of our time that is now filled with lobbyists for the rich and powerful
who talk the language of populism while doing all in their power to undermine
real democracy. And not least, we have an unelected president who asserts his
right to subvert the Bill of Rights at home and wage preemptive war abroad as
he sees fit.
The present administration asserts American-style democracy as the answer to
problems in Iraq, but democracy at home is in tatters. The surest sign is the
growing gap between what the public wants and what it gets. In the election of
2000 the combined vote for Al Gore and Ralph Nader was "the greatest popular-vote
majority for the center-left since 1964." (1) But what we got instead was
the most reactionary and closed administration in memory.
But the effect extends far beyond the results of national elections. Polls consistently
show that most Americans do not want dirty air or water, but some well-connected
industries do. Most Americans do not want poisons in their food, but agribusiness
and chemical companies do. Most Americans would prefer not to run the considerable
risks of climate change, but a few extremists do. Most Americans want health
care coverage for everyone, but the health care industry does not. Most Americans
do not want assault rifles on their streets, but the leadership of the National
Rifle Association does. Most Americans do not want our nation to ignore old friends
and allies and act as a global bully, but a few fantasize about empire in the
"new American century." A sizeable majority of Americans would like us to get
to the heart of what ails us and remove money, once and for all, from the political
process, but a few do not. None of us specifically voted for any of these things
and few would support them given the truth and better alternatives, of which
there are many. But for the time being, the few are in control, and the consequence
has been steady rollbacks of the protections of our rights and our environment.
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