The Rediscovery Of North America, by Barry Lopez
Although this short book, which I managed to read while wrestling with my customary insomnia last night, is only about 60 pages long, it represents a great deal of wasted paper and a missed opportunity. Barry Lopez, clearly a left-wing environmentalist, here shows unrighteous anger in that it is immensely selective, harshly condemning the Spanish, and by implication the rest of European settlers into the New World for their rapine destruction of the natural world of North America, entirely failing to judge by a just standard that would similarly condemn the local indigenous peoples who destroyed a large amount of North America’s megafauna long before there were Europeans or their descendants present to blame, and whose active management of the land is what made it so appealing to those settlers in the first place, by taking nature and making it fit for mankind. Likewise, the immense Precolombian copper mining in Labrador and Quebec and the mining of the Inca demonstrate that long before Europeans came to North America there was extensive focus on mining operations among the local peoples that Barry Lopez places in a false distinction to the Europeans, false because he takes the worst accounts of Europeans, namely the early Spaniards in their flight from responsibility, and compares it to an idealized and sanitized portrait of the native peoples of North America as being supposedly in touch with the nature, a classic, but inaccurate, belief in the noble savage myth that has long been the standard trope of those who oppose the civilization of Western Europe and her settler colonies around the world.
In terms of its contents, this book consists of a wide variety of short thought-pieces by the author that share a common sense of misplaced outrage against those involved in the resource industry and a demonization of those businesses in particular, and European settlement in general. The author furthermore shows the classic arrogance of the left in that he assumes that anyone who does not share his blinkered and biased and inaccurate view of history is considered to be an irresponsible juvenile in flight from the responsibilities of a settled home life. When one combines the strident tone of the author, his obvious bias and total lack of knowledge about whereof he speaks, it is a matter of extreme difficulty to appreciate even the more mild and moderate recommendations he has, for even where there is agreement in these areas the fact that the author is so woefully unequipped in sound knowledge and a reasonable worldview that it is impossible to consider him a competent authority on any area discussed in this book. Even the title of this book, The Rediscovery Of North America, indicates that this book is likely to be a bias, because the author does not view the settlement of Europeans here as any kind of discovery, but rather an incursion. One wonders if he would be equally critical of the original incursions of various native peoples whose similar rapine slaughter of North America’s megafauna left the people of North America limited in their ability to handle the later settlement of the Europeans. Nor was the behavior of the native peoples towards the Europeans and their successor states blameless and proper and honorable. People are people, all a mixture of good and evil, and coming to grips with that is far more necessary than seeking to affix the blame for what is judged as an unsatisfactory state of affairs on one group of people or another, as satisfying as it may be to rage against others as this author does.
Nevertheless, this book is not entirely bereft of usefulness, despite its many and serious errors. Given that this book is really a leftist religious track promoting a sort of nature religion, the author is seeking to bring the reader to a particular conclusion. To that end, it is worthwhile to quote the book’s closing sentences: “We lie in the ships with those men, I think, because we are ambivalent about what to do. We do not know whether to confront this sea of troubles or to stand away, care for our own, and take comfort in the belief that the power to act lies elsewhere. It is this paralysis in the face of disaster, this fear before the beast, that would cause someone looking from the outside to say that we face a crisis of character. It is not a crisis of policy or of law or of administration. We cannot turn to institutions, to environmental groups, or to government. If we rise in the night, sleepless, to stand at the ship’s rail and gaze at the New world under the setting moon, we know we are thousands of miles away from home, and that if we mean to make this a true home, we have a monumental adjustment to make, and only our companions on the ship to look to. We must turn to each other, and sense that this is possible (57-58).” It is a shame that such a sensible conclusion, such a reasonable statement of our dilemma in contemporary society, and such an honest appreciation of the responsibility that lies on us all to live in a godly and upright fashion comes at the end of a book full of immense and misplaced anger that will only persuade those who are already of the same worldview of the author, and that is one ship I am not sailing on.