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March 20, 2005


I've been thinking a bit more about the whole "women bloggers are from Venus, Kevin Drum is from Uranus" thing, and I'm wondering a bit about my own approach to my own blog. Could I perhaps be neglecting my duty to masculinize the internets? I mean not only do I write in support of feminist women, but I post photos of flowers and bunnies, and I also post poetry, some of which is about flowers and bunnies and women. Could I be blogging just a shade too fey?

It's not just the blog, either. I wonder sometimes whether I'm not nearly aggressive enough in promoting my writing: I want to write and sit back and let other people discover what a great job I've done. That oh-so-masculine self-promotion kinda leaves me cold.

Take for example my work at Earth Island Journal. A few years ago I did some investigative work that solidly linked a new destructive form of sonar, which has been implicated in dozens if not hundreds of whale deaths, to an increasingly interventionist US foreign policy. (Sound far-fetched? Read the article.) No one had put together that information before, and I probably could have gotten some traction with the story if I'd shopped it around more.

Or take this story, which I broke in the US press (with important help from my friend Ann Hwang). The Journal printed my rather exhaustive analysis of Bush administration interference with science in April 2003. The New York Times picked up that story in February 2004. That year, the story won a Project Censored award - for a much shorter, much less extensive, essentially truncated take on the story I scooped the US press on more than a year before.

I don't care about the award, really. Nice thing to add to your curriculum vitae, I suppose, but the Joshua trees are the only things I want to impress, and they care as little about my lack of Project Censored award as they do about my lack of degree. But I wonder: If I were a real man would I be pushing my work harder, whining loudly about all the praise I'd gotten? On the one hand there's my natural, utterly captivating reticence. On the other hand, my starved little testosterego. Which one do I cultivate?

But I just got a little sidelong piece of praise that even reticent little old me can't help but crow about.

A little context is necessary here. A few weeks ago, two Bay Area activists, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, wrote an essay claiming that environmentalism is moribund, if not dead. Shellenberger - an acquaintance of mine - and Nordhaus claimed that the environmental movement is too ossified, too bureaucratic and wonky and out of touch wth the common person, and needs to abandon its current strategy of releasing position papers on kilojoules per ton of atmospheric carbon (or whatever) and start working to build a broad-based progressive movement to take back the country from the right.

I'd heard it before - not just the criticism of the environmental movement, largely anticipated (and better expressed) in Mark Dowie's 1996 book Losing Ground, but also the call for everyone to stop what we're doing and start working on the thing that the self-appointed experts tell us is more important. I suspect this argument will seem familiar to feminists. It's certainly familiar to me, having been ordered by random know-it-alls to work on population control, or black reparations, or Mumia's cult of personality, or the Ohio Election atrocities, or any number of other things over the last thirty years.

Also: that's not the environmental movement I know. The movement I know has a few ossified, bureaucratic but still arguably useful groups with huge budgets in DC, and tens of thousands of vital groups working on local and regional issues. All those people cleaning creeks and de-oiling ducks and pulling invasive exotics and adopting feral cats and starting recycling programs and challenging suburban sprawl and warning people off eating fish from mercury-laden estuaries, and Nordhaus and Shellenberger would have them give all that up to work on election reform or some such?

Heads. Up. Their. Asses.

And so lots of radical environmentalists are taking S&N to task for this truly stupid piece of writing, and one such person, I noticed Thursday, is Paul Watson, Captain of the Sea Shepherd. The Sea Shepherd, if you haven't heard of it, is a ship whose crew enforces international law on the high seas, often by extreme (though non-violent to people) measures. For instance, the crew of the Sea Shepherd defends whales by ramming the whaling ships.

And Captain Watson, in his slam of Shellenberger and Nordhaus, holds up Earth Island Journal as a refutation of S&N's claims that enviros are out of touch with social and class issues.

In other words: in a prominent fight among high-level environmentalists, my work is being cited as evidence that there is still some working-class toughness in the environmental movement.

By a pirate.

And my bunny can kick your ass.

Posted by Chris Clarke at March 20, 2005 12:44 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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As always your passionate defense of the planet and our time on it left me gripping the edge of my chair. Both you and Rana certainly have a way with articulating very complex topics and cutting to the chase. I wish I could disengage my own emotions better when trying to write about my love for the Earth and my outrage (really weak-tea word) at what is happening to it. Too often I get overwhelmed with the emotion behind what I am trying to say and I end up drowning in despair. But that is not what the world needs, is it? I should know better... I think, compared to most people, I am extremely well versed in ecology and biodiversity and creatures of all kinds... and yet I just can't seem to find a practical application for what I know. How do you cope with watching something that means everything to you die and not being able to do a thing about it? How do you get others to comprehend what exactly you love so much about something not human, perhaps not even "alive" in the usual sense?

Like you for the joshua trees, I live for the cries of azure-winged magpies and the rustle of bamboo groves and the majesty of ancient beech trees and the smell of rain-soaked loam. These are the things that create an extension of who I am and complete the gestalt of my existence. I really, honestly don't care if I become great or famous or rich... just making sure the Earth and all its deizens are safe and healthy is good enough for me.

So reading your piece today, in its very defiance, offered some measure of peace and relief. I need to know that there are others just like me out there; the bigger the sea of collective guardians, the more it seems that we might be able to make at least a tiny difference. If not to divert the disaster, at least to feel that I went down trying, and not alone, but in the company of others who also gave a damn. It is the despairing alone that I just can't bear.

By the way, I just love this: 'You have been subscribed to "Arrrggghhh!" '

Posted by: Miguel at March 20, 2005 04:19 AM
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Chris--It's OK to crow! We need your voice, especially now when the voices seem to have waned. Keep on!

Posted by: Sean at March 20, 2005 05:41 AM
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Indeed! It's seems as though some think environmentalists should spend more time on the 'marketing'of their cause, as though awareness were a fashionable commodity. Is it indicative of what happens to any grassroots organization? Keep it up!
BTW, Chris, this post did seem to get very 'masculine' towards the end!

Posted by: JoJo at March 20, 2005 06:24 AM
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Your work is so important-- it is just great to see it being recognized. We've only recently discovered your blog, but it has quickly become one of our favorites, not only for the content, but for your passion, wit, and authority. When a pirate sings your praises, you are in the best of company. Great job.

Posted by: Rexroth's Daughter at March 20, 2005 09:27 AM
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(Sorry. I couldn't resist the temptation to be silly.)

I'm seeing parallels here with a lot of other things I'm seeing elsewhere in the blogosphere regarding the relationship between the mainstream (particularly the corporate media) and progressive causes.

What I keep seeing, over and over, in different contexts is this dynamic: a group of moderates or centrists (who probably would have been conservatives a couple of decades ago) calls for the left to make itself more marketable to the general public by acting more like themselves. You see this with the male bloggers debate, you see this with the Democrats, you see this with regards to abortion, the war in Iraq, winning elections, and now this. In each case the call is for progressive activists to stop being so "out there" and "naive" and "too concerned with purity" and to be "practical" by mainstreaming themselves.

What I'm beginning to suspect is that these people who tout these lines of thinking all inhabit a similar space in the political spectrum, a space in which they are comfortable and their place in which the presence of genuine lefties threatens. That is, they've made a niche for themselves as "liberals" -- that is, as a group of moderates and centrists who can act as a perceived counterweight to the far right and make it look less extreme than it is. I don't know how many are conscious that this is their role, but clearly they have been rewarded with attention and funding for playing it. Moreover, they can play this role without much in the way of personal sacrifice -- a cushy gig indeed.

So when genuine progressives appear on the scene, especially when they are just as articulate and far more passionate and committed, the immediate response is to try to co-opt those voices or to neuter them.

Short version: the reason we keep seeing these dynamics is that we are not allies for these centrists. We are competition.

Posted by: Rana at March 21, 2005 10:12 AM
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