Hall of Shame

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996

Hall of Shame

Books for a Brown World

Gilgamesh, The oldest literary work in history stars a hero, the Sumerian king Gilgamesh, who achieves glory by killing the forest demon Huwawa. "It is a sorry fact of history," notes Robert Pogue Harrison in Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, reflecting on this allegorical act of clear-cutting, "that human beings have never ceased reenacting the gesture of Gilgamesh."

Discourse on Method, by Ren‹ Descartes. The father of modern science argues that animals are nothing but automata, incapable of speech, reasoning, or even sensation. His mechanistic view of nature has dominated Western thought ever since.

The Grundrisse, by Karl Marx. Communism's main man saw eye-to-eye with capitalists when it came to the environment. In this work, Marx argues that the "great civilizing influence of capital" is that it rejects the "deification of nature," so that "nature becomes for the first time simply an object for mankind, purely a matter of utility." Sadly, his analysis appears to have been right. Environmental wreckage on both sides of what was the Iron Curtain bears witness.

The Ultimate Resource, by Julian L. Simon. "Natural resources are not finite. Yes, you read that correctly," writes economist Simon, who argues that human ingenuity will overcome every environmental challenge. Many of his predictions-that energy demands would be eased by the 1990s, for example, thanks to the mining of moon rocks and the use of nuclear fusion-have proved a bit off the mark. Yet his work has remained enormously influential in right-wing circles, guiding both Reagan administration population policy and Gingrich-led environmental deregulation proposals.

The Way Things Ought to Be, by Rush Limbaugh. In chapters such as "Animals Have No Rights-Go Ahead and Lick That Frog" and "Sorry, but the Earth Is Not Fragile," the duke of dittoheads levels attack after attack at "long-haired maggot-infested" environmentalists. We'd be laughing at his downright silliness-but the book sold more than 2.5 million copies before it ever made it to paperback, notching it second on the all-time hardcover sales list.

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