Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Jared Diamond, Fabulist?

Our friends at Powerline wrote several weeks back about how the unctuous Bill Moyers had slandered Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt by recycling the canard that "Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.’"

Watt never said any such thing, and though this urban legend has been knocked down for more than 20 years, as the Moyers article shows it lives on. Moyers had to issue a public apology to Watt, as did the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where Moyers article appeared. (He also made the same charge in a speech at Harvard.) So, too, the environmental website Grist.org issued an apology and retraction (it had been Moyers’ source for the quote): "Grist has been unable to substantiate that Watt made this statement. We would like to extend our sincere apologies to Watt and to our readers for this error."

All of this is prologue for considering what is likely an equally spurious quotation, if not in fact a fabrication, that appears in the pages of Jared Diamond’s new best-seller Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. In a particularly frothy passage on page 462 attacking mining companies, Diamond writes:

“Civilization as we know it would be impossible without oil, farm food, wood, or books, but oil executives, farmers, loggers, and book publishers nevertheless don’t cling to that quasi-religious fundamentalism of mine executives: ‘God put those metals there for the benefit of mankind, to be mined.’”

The “mine executive” who supposedly said this is not identified, nor the name of her company. (There are no footnotes or source notes for this quote, or any other in the book.) It is not clear from Diamond’s prose whether this is meant to be a verbatim quotation, or a stylized characterization, The doubt about the authenticity of this quote is deepened by the immediate sequel:

"

The CEO and most officers of one of the major American mining companies are members of a church that teaches that God will soon arrive on Earth, hence if we can just postpone land reclamation for another 5 or 10 years it will then be irrelevant anyway."

Again, Diamond identifies neither the mining company nor the denomination in question here. These things matter. Precisely because Diamond is a bestselling author of considerable reputation, his distortion or invention of ridiculous quotations threatens to inject them into wider circulation. In fact, it has already started.

Reviewing Collapse in Science magazine, Tim Flannery writes of “the CEO of an American mining company who believes that ‘God will soon arrive on Earth, hence if we can just postpone land reclamation for another 5 or 10 years it will then be irrelevant anyway.’” Suddenly we’ve gone from executives who attend an unidentified congregation that believes this to an unnamed CEO who “believes” this. The next short step will be directly attributing this non-quotation to the unnamed CEO.

It is beyond doubtful that any denomination believes as a matter of doctrine the ridiculous views Diamond describes. To paraphrase Orwell, only a university professor could believe such nonsense. Diamond owes it to his readers, and the mining company executives in question, to come clean with specifics about who supposedly said this and what denomination holds these views, so other journalists can verify the story. Either Diamond was had by some woolly faculty room chatter, or he fabricated another shameful slander reminiscent of the Watt remark.

Discussions - 7 Comments

I’m a contract computer programmer who’s just finished a stint with a natural gas fractionation company.

I have heard a senior executive asking the question about the timeline of the company. "Is it a 10-year business, a 20-year business, or longer?" This was asked completely in a business context, musing about a strategy for keeping the company going after natural gas is no longer viable. Not even the least hint of something else.

My immediate supervisor was an evangelical christian, very low-key, center-left politics. (I have no idea what his church’s politics were, if such a question even has meaning.) If someone were to put the proposition, attributed to the CEO, to him, the only response would have been incredulous laughters, some eye-rolling, and perhaps an "ok, back to work."

Any CEO who’s actively assuming that his company - and the world - will come to a Divinely-ordained end in 5 or 10 years will be an ex-CEO much sooner than that.

‘God put those metals there for the benefit of mankind, to be mined.’

That is a ridiculous statement, but the Gaia proscription against ANWAR drilling is sensible?

Brian Carnell (above) is wrong. It originated soon after James Watt’s congressional testimony in 1981.

Watt spoke at the University of Colorado last year (Feb. 11, 2004, Boulder) where noted Western historian Patricia Nelson Limerick reprised the history of this PC canard, and the former Secretary of the Interior answered it personally.

The environmental lobby seized upon it for reasons of greed: it served their symbiotically statist agenda to vilify a non-secular Christian put in charge of "their" natural preserve: Interior controls more acreage than any department of the US government.

A complete transcript is available here:
http://www.headwatersnews.org/p.watt.html

Limerick states:
"He is a person of strong religious belief and admitted religious belief from the beginning and that, I believe, has been the subject to some misinterpretation.

"I will tell you my historian’s belief based on a number of scholars’ studies, that this is not the person, this person did not say that because the Second Coming was imminent we must squander and trash our resources. Contrary to what folklore tells us, he said there is no public record evidence of him saying that. In fact the public record is just the opposite. He said, ’Since the Second Coming may be upon us, we must behave as good stewards’ in anticipation of that reckoning.

"...I have been made quite unhappy by reviewing the way in which the press and editorial cartoonists portrayed him. He was so susceptible to what editorial cartoonists wanted so here are a few reviewing cartoons of the time. I have two that I think were pretty funny. ’Someday son all this will be Exxon’s.’ And ’Now we’ve done it. We’ve went and told a bunch of James Watt stories and now we’ll be awake all night.’ "

This episode and the way the media ate it up and genuflected before the environmentalist lobby more than justifies Rush Limbough’s catcall, "enviro wacko."

What’s interesting, I think, about the apocalypse canard is that it inverts, in precise terms, the pervasive eschatological bent of the environmentalist movement, which seems compelled to imagine, since the end of the world as we know it is just around the corner, that their opponents (somehow) feel fine. What better counterpoint to the real end of the world (from DDT, nuclear winter, ozone depletion, acid rain, greenhouse effect--er, global warming, etc., etc.) than some facile end of world scenario concocted by wild-eyed Christians, especially if that scenario is mobilized in opposition to the Real End of the World as We Know It? What fearful symmetry!

Someone should really write a book about the postmodern desire for eschatology that would look at environmentalism in light of fundamentalisms dating back to the Millerites. I grew up in a fundamentalist church that had a clear reading of Revelation as U.S. vs. USSR; now, the reading is U.S. vs. UN and one-world government. The substitution is identical to the environmental substitution of global warming for nuclear winter, DDT, and whatever else was going to end the world back in the 70s.

Great comments from everybody. Thanks especially to Orson Olson; my recollection was that the Watty canard was around back in the 1980s, and I’ve been looking over my files to find it without success (and now I am on the road). I do distinctly recall it being discussed in the early 1990s by a friend who worked for Watt in Interior.

Scott Romine’s suggestion of a contrast between Christian and environmental eschatology is something I am working on right now in fact.

Finally, I have found Jared Diamond’s e-mail, and have put the entire question directly to him in a very polite note. I’ll post any reply, if I get one.

Regardless of the nuances of what Watt said or did not say we can certainly conclude the Watt was no fan of environmental regulations and that Watt is a religious fanatic. Your endless defensive corporate ass-kissing prattle regarding Jared Diamond’s reference to a Bill Moyer’s misquote of Watt doesn’t negate the central theme of the book that environmental destruction and exploitation has been one of the central components in the decline of past civilizations. Reading your nauseating attempts to defend Watt and attack Jared Diamond makes me wonder why your being so defensive. If your an amoral libertarian why don’t you just live up to the fact and stop trying to moralize your greed and materialistic nature. Perhaps you’ll feel better if you just come out and say "I don’t care about the environment and the future, I’m just concerned about myself and I don’t like it when someone cramps my lifestyle and comfort with their moral agenda." That would be far more honest and it wouldn’t sound like such a stupid crybaby.

My uncle was listening to your show today, and I think you are an idiot. I am only 12 years old and I can see right through your crap. That thing about women getting prosecuted for getting an abortion really ticked me off. What if a woman is only 18 yars old and gets pregnant, she has no money and knows she con’t take care of her child. Don’t you think It would be better to get rid of it while it still isn’t actually a human, or give birth and have the child suffer all of their life, or even be sent to an orphanage?

Leave a Comment

* denotes a required field
 

No TrackBacks
TrackBack URL: http://nlt.ashbrook.org/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/6286