Jay Meehan: A cosmological imperative
February 24, 2015
The philosophical ethic recently laid out by Salt Lake City-based writer and documentarian Scott Carrier in an essay included in the Feb. 15, 2015, issue of High Country News comes as close as any other that has crossed my path to explaining the many rifts that have always separated us "newcomers" (I arrived in late August of 1970) from the born-and-raised "locals."
This is a sweeping generalization, of course, but one I’ve long subscribed to myself. The subject never gets broached by me at the local saloons or elsewhere when discussions of left and right or red and blue arrive on the heels of early-onset inebriation.
Carrier uses the longtime Mormon pioneer stock that populated the towns of Escalante and Boulder beginning in the1880s and the newer arrivals that came for the view and stayed as the microcosm for his thesis. He refers to them as "insiders’ and "outsiders."
Now, you have probably noticed that I’ve been tiptoeing around the ethic in question. Although I firmly believe in its main suppositions, I’ve always given it a wide berth when my boot heels are propped-up on the bar rail. Part of the reason I don’t fully engage my friends to this level of my core philosophy is, of course, a combination of hubris, arrogance, and caution.
"The insiders and the outsiders sometimes do not get along, especially on issues concerning land use and resource management," says Carrier. Boy, there’s an understatement.
"The most dramatic rift opened up in 1996, when then-President Bill Clinton created the 1.9 million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, covering a good part of the watershed. Outsiders welcomed it [including your humble scribe]; insiders were, and many still are, furious."
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Scott Carrier has a theory about the conflict. "I think it’s because the two groups have entirely different cosmologies, or answers to the questions of where we come from, why we are here, and where we are going." Now we’re getting to the point of why I never bring up the subject while knocking back a shot or two with one of my many friends from "the right."
Expanding on his theme, Carrier lays out what he considers to be the "insider" cosmology: "Mormons believe we are the offspring of a Heavenly Father who put us here, in this mortal existence on the planet Earth, in order to progress toward a higher, even god-like state of being."
"They believe they, the Saints of the Latter Days, are chosen by God to build His Kingdom on Earth and prepare for the return of His son, Jesus the Christ, and that God promised this land to them for just this purpose. The Mormons’ belief system is based upon this faith. It’s how they see themselves, as God’s stewards of the land."
"The cosmology of the outsiders, on the other hand, is not based in faith but in reason. They believe human beings evolved from ape-like ancestors, for example, and that humans are a part of nature, not separate from it. Their god is nature, and they use science to understand His work, or Her work, if they believe in a god at all. They’re environmentalists." Ah, yes, the "E" word.
So, as I interpret Carrier’s stated differences in the "cosmologies" at play, it seems fairly evident that the "insiders" are performing their stunts over a safety net, the "Second Coming," while the "outsiders" are attempting to "free solo" whatever carbon-footprint-pitches they take on. They don’t have the luxury of a Climate Justice get-out-of-jail-free card.
This is not to say that there are not those whose belief system is deeply rooted in monotheism who also see God’s work as their own, who are also deeply rooted in classical environmentalism. Or that many non-believer profit-motivated developers don’t also roam the landscape.
One thing is for sure, there is anger aplenty afoot on both sides of the chasm and it shows little sign of abating. It does my heart good, however, to see so many young people manning the front lines of the wars on tar sands and pipelines and other short-term insanities.
Myself, I can’t wait for the Second Coming! Someone has a lot of explaining to do!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
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