When Bill McKibben described Edward Abbey as “a master of anarchy and irreverence and one of the funniest writers America has produced since Mark Twain,” I was intrigued, but skeptical (Mark Twain, really?!?). But I actually did enjoy “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and the National Parks” an exert from Desert Solitaire, quite a bit. Even better, it was funny while being about the environment, truly a noble subject.
Polemic, by definition, means a controversial argument or someone who argues in opposition to another. In this way, even before reading the piece, the title suggests to me a war of some proportion. Industrial Tourism Versus the National Parks? Essentially this was, and is still, the case. In Edward Abbey’s situation, the problem was that his comfortable way of life and the land he loves was being invaded by the future, big business and industrial tourism. I’m both interested and embarrassed by the idea of industrial tourism. Abbey presents this type of tourism as a kind of enemy, but I sincerely love seeing the world through a car window. It’s just something that’s always been enjoyable for me- by riding in the car and looking out the window you can see so much. Upon reflection though, I guess this is just a surface experience, it’s seeing without actually gaining anything or really taking anything in.
I wouldn’t necessarily describe myself as an industrial tourist (no, I don’t vacation in a “camper-truck of Fiberglas and molded plastic”) but I’m certainly no Edward Abbey. That being said, I can definitely see Abbey’s argument that society is tied to cars. Though I can’t help but enjoy long car rides, maybe I’ll put off getting a car for a little longer.