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Eudaimonia: Us against them

23 Aug. 2013 Posted by Scott Selliers
Eustace Conway, Elizabeth Gilbert, Turtle Island, The Last American Man, Mountain Man

When looking at the world through Green eyes, our local and federal governments can appear ghoulish. On any given day, the media seems chock full of N.I.M.B.Y. warriors rallying the eco-troops against one corporate villain or another, seemingly always with a shoulder-shrugging Government complaisant in the periphery. Through our screens an epic Us Against Them plays out, the eco-friendlies squaring off against greedy politicians Hell-bent on writing laws that favor the spoiling of the Earth. To further explore the plot of this well-known story, consider the ongoing media coverage of Mr. Eustace Conway.

Already known by author Elizabeth Gilbert’s title The Last American Man , Eustace Conway’s reputation as the preeminent contemporary naturalist was further galvanized by the History Channel’s Mountain Men series . Weekly episodes presented his pioneering spirit among the Appalachian wilds as nothing less than a bold middle finger to The Man; repeated remarks concerning Mr. Conway’s struggles against “the taxman” towed the line alongside video of rugged log-hewn buildings being brought out of the forests of the Turtle Island Preserve, his 1000-acre property through which he “ideally works towards peace on earth through a bottom-line program of understanding and respecting the people and environment that governs the quality of our lives.” Anyone following along logically comes to the conclusion that Eustace and the government (or society as a whole) just don’t see eye to eye. Yet recent media coverage surrounding this man and his lifestyle has begun to betray the Us Against Them storyline we all know and seem to love.

A previous court case, found in favor of a woman whose eye was put out during one of those “bottom-line program[s]” at Turtle Island, had a debt being owed that was to be founded by the sale of a few acres; the nemesis “taxman”, against which Eustace Conway was being portrayed as hero, was in fact Watuaga County helping a woman seek her rightful justice. (An ironic aside: this particular version of David & Goliath actually involves a sling. Look it up for yourself.) It would appear that what we get from the media isn’t always as it seems; the government may not always be out to smite the Greenest among us. This reality has recently come clearer for me in the past few days.

After any good old-fashioned gully-washer worthy of the title occurs here in Middle Tennessee, our namesake Stonybrook becomes something of a torrent; the rolling hills funnel any considerable rainfall right across our driveway. Somewhere down the line, our driveway is going to require a bridge. Assuming the worst with regards to government involvement in such a situation, I checked with the county in which I live to see if any form of permit or license would be required for such an undertaking. As I feared (Cue ominous score announcing the arrival of the villain!), bureaucratic paperwork would be thrust upon my weary tree-hugging heart; The Man was going to crush the aspirations of yet another dreamer... But with a non-sequitur worthy of a Chuck Palahnuik novel, the clerk on the phone had peaceful comfort to offer; I need only stop by the Department of Stormwater’s office and pick up a packet. Skeptically cautious of such government-offered simplicity, I sheepishly entered the county office with visions of unfathomable fees and insurmountable stacks of legalese haunting my expectations. However, a smile, a three-page printout and a “Have a nice day!” saw me right back out the door and into a Brave New World, in which citizen and government coexist fruitfully ever after.

It seems as though the only concerns Wilson County has with the building of bridges on private lands has to do with the possible disruption of stream banks, the harm of sensitive aquatic flora and fauna, the sedimentation of streams and the free transit of fish. One brief phone call and a downright pleasant visit to a county office had me on my way, with all the regulatory knowledge the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation General Permit for Construction and Removal of Minor Road Crossings document graciously offers, free of charge. It seems that, sometimes at least, the government has the same concerns that I do. Going forward, I may rightfully chastise those asleep at the wheel of ecological issues, but I will try to appreciate having someone at that wheel for me in the first place. If we are to use our laws, regulations and governmental authorities to protect the environment, then we need to extend the courtesy of reserved and patient understanding to our respective governments. In the world in which we now live, we need a media aimed at our empowerment through reliable information. But by demonizing these governments, the media we have is aimed at our endless hunger for entertainment. This is the real tragedy of the story of Us Against Them.

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