Stewardship of the Air
Let me say at the outset that after forty years of breathing the miasmic exhalations of Geneva, I must admit that things are definitely better under Mr. Cannon’s supervision than they were in the days of U.S. Steel. We have all heard arguments on both sides in this affair. Recently Mr. Cannon publicly injected a religious note into the discussion with his declaration that the reborn steel mill is a child of divine intervention, an act of providence.
The connection between the sacred and profane is entirely a proper one, and I welcome the excuse for a philosophical discourse. For as we learn even from the Word of Wisdom, body and mind—the temporal and the spiritual—are inseparable, and to corrupt the one is to corrupt the other. Inevitably our surroundings become a faithful reflection of our mentality and vice versa. The right people, according to Brigham Young, could convert hell to heaven, and the wrong ones heaven to hell. “Every faculty bestowed upon man is subject to contamination—subject to be diverted from the purpose the Creator designed it to fill.”1 This principle meets us in the law of Moses: “Ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land. . . . Defile not therefore the land which ye shall inhabit, wherein I dwell: for I the Lord dwell among the children of Israel” (Numbers 35:33—34). And today we are told that “the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin. . . . For shall the children of the kingdom pollute my holy land?” (D&C 84:49, 59). “I have promised . . . their restoration to the land of Zion. . . . Nevertheless, if they pollute their inheritances, they shall be thrown down; for I will not spare them if they pollute their inheritances” (D&C 103:13—14).
Brigham Young explains:
You are here commencing anew. The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness. Strive to preserve the elements from being contaminated by the filthy, wicked conduct and sayings of those who pervert the intelligence God has bestowed upon the human family.2
And this is now brought home to us in the great bicentennial address of President Kimball:
But when I review the performance of this people in comparison with what is expected, I am appalled and frightened. Iniquity seems to abound. The Destroyer seems to be taking full advantage of the time remaining to him in this, the great day of his power. . . . I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it. . . . The Brethren constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord: against pollution of mind, body, and our surroundings.3
Brother Brigham states the problem in terms of a flat-out contest between the most vital necessity of life and pure greed, a principle as old as the human record, rooted in a fundamental fact of nature: “The world is after riches. Riches is the god they worship. . . . What constitutes health, wealth, joy, and peace? In the first place, good pure air is the greatest sustainer of animal life.”4 “The Lord blesses the land, the air, and the water where the Saints are permitted to live.”5
As is well known, all metals are lifeless crystals arranged on a hexagonal plan which can grow only by accretion from without—they are, so to speak, expansive, acquisitive, and dead by nature. On the other hand, all organic life favors pentagonal forms (with the Fibonacci progression) and grows from within, reproducing itself in the life process.
Throughout the human experience that strange dichotomy between the organic and inorganic meets us in parable, history, myth, and folklore. Brother Kimball referred expressly to the Destroyer. There is no more ancient, pervasive, or persistent tradition than that of the adversary, the Prince of Darkness, most often and most widely described as the lord of the underworld who sits in his Stygian realm upon all the mineral treasures of the earth, worked by toiling slaves amidst foul and pestilential vapors. Many years ago Jakob Grimm made a long study of the subject. Our lord of the underworld rules under many names—Satan, Loki, Mammon, Mulciber, Hephaestus, etc.; and his workers are the gnomes, trolls, kobolds, the dwarfs, and other grimy, hard-working creatures. The model is plainly taken from prehistoric mining regions such as the immensely old Varna works in Yugoslavia and others in Asia Minor and Cyprus. For the classical writers, Spain was his kingdom, with its blighted regions of mines, smelters, and foundries—all worked by starving, filthy, driven slaves, converting the landscape into barren wastes of slag and stunted vegetation.
Cyprus was early stripped of its forests to provide fuel for the copper and silver smelters.6 Plato tells us that Attica in his day had become “the skeleton of a body wasted by disease.” The abundant forests were gone; gone were the food for animals and the storage for water. “In the old days,” he says, “the water was not lost, as it is today, by running off a barren ground to the sea.”7 Though that enlightened city passed an ordinance against throwing garbage into the streets as early as 500 B.C., today 2,500 years later Athens is strangling in smog, which is literally destroying those glories of Plato’s day which have survived until the present.
The big boss is best known by far under his names of Pluto and Plutus, the one denoting his function as the lord of the underworld and the other as the god of riches.8 The best known public appearance of Pluto is his rape of Proserpine, the most famous rape in song and story.9 She is the daughter of Demeter, Mother Earth, and represents everything that is fresh, beautiful, green, young, and growing. Pluto, in his black quadriga or black stretch limousine, sweeps out of his subterranean realm amidst choking clouds of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and assorted particles, and snatches Proserpine away from the scene to go down and live with him as a very rich but unhappy bride. In northern mythology when the maiden goes down to live below, her name is changed to Hell. With her departure all the upper world becomes as dull and gloomy as Pluto’s own busy factories, foundries, and smelters. This makes Pluto’s claim to rule over the earth complete. He takes the treasures of the earth and with them creates the wealth and the armaments that enable him to rule through the ages with blood and horror.
The psychological side of the legends is significant. The Pluto figure is shunned and avoided by men; no ancient tribe claimed him as an ancestor. No cult paid him honor, for all the fear and dread his power inspired. His uncompromising enemy is Dike—justice or righteousness. Theognis of Megara, a ruined aristocrat, lamenting his lost fortune, sings the praise of “Plutus, thou fairest of gods and most desirable of all things, through thee even the basest man can become a pillar of society” (esthlos aner).10 Shakespeare says the same when he has Timon of Athens, after losing his fabulous wealth, tell us how gold can make “black white, foul fair, wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant,”11 how it can turn scoundrels to senators; and most to the point, how it can transmute the foulest stench into the balms and spices of an April day. Plutus is always selfish, always reluctant to share what he has with his brother (Hyginus). His gifts to mankind are dullness of intellect (anoia), boundless self-importance amounting to self-adoration (megalauchia), and hybris—that arrogance which guarantees ultimate ruin.
In a fable told in the Phaedrus, we are told that when Hercules, after completing his philanthropic labors among men, was received into heaven, all the heroes and demigods gathered round to congratulate him on his arrival. When Plutus came to greet him he promptly turned his back on him. This shocked them all, and when he was asked why he did it, Hercules replied, “Because he makes men base and corrupts everything he touches.”12 But the best known trait of Plutus to the ancients was his blindness, which is the main theme of the philosophers and poets. There is no proportion between merit and mischief, reward and deserts, right and wrong when Plutus bestows his gifts.
At first, in archaic times, Plutus was an agrarian figure, the reward of the hardworking farmer, but with advancing civilization he was given a new persona, wealth as such and no questions asked. “Plutus has become the common guide of life,” writes the poet Antiphanes, “because people think it will get them everything, and they are not particular how.” When the schoolmen started to make the rules in late antiquity, they ordered Arete (virtue, honesty) to step down and yield her place to Pluto.
It is easy to recognize in Pluto the Cain figure. Cain began as a farmer; but when following Satan’s instructions, he made use of that great secret of how to murder and get gain, the earth refused him her strength, and he became a wanderer. Since time immemorial that homeless tribe (the land of Nod means land of unsettled nomad) is designated throughout the East by the name Qayin, meaning a wandering metal-worker, the mark of his trade and his tribe being the face blackened at the forge; he is a skillful maker and peddler of weapons and jewels, the twin destroyers and corrupters of mankind. Long ago, Eusebius, called the father of church history, tells of an early Christian tradition that the evil spirits which constantly seek to defile and corrupt human society “move about in thick polluted air,” as a most fitting environment for their work. In a passage from a famous Hermetic work, the KoreÃ¸ Kosmu (excerpt 23), the Air complains to the Creator, “O Master, I myself am made thick and polluted, and by the stench of dead things from the dump I reek to heaven, so that I breed sickness, and have ceased to be wholesome; and when I look down from above I see things which are too awful to behold.”
Of the Sagas of the North, the one best known to us, thanks to Wagner, is the Nibelungenlied. The Nibelungs were hideous dwarfs who mined, smelted, and forged deep within the earth. They possessed the Rheingold, which gave any possessor infinite power, but forced him to renounce love and doomed him to destruction. Freia, the goddess of youth, was bartered for the gold and carried by the giants; whereupon the earth was covered with a pall of smoke, and all things, including the gods, began to age and wither. Note the Proserpine parallel. The story is an endless procession of tricks, lies, and murders for power and gain. We are introduced into a world of ringing hammers, glowing forges, warped and deformed dwarfs plotting their dirty tricks and murders, brainless giants knocking each other’s brains out, men and women of high society plotting and poisoning, all of them after the same Rheingold—because the Rheingold of course made its owner the ruler of the universe. A recent production of the “Ring” in Germany, in which the protagonists are steel and munitions barons, departs not a jot from Wagner’s intent.
The most famous passage relevant to our subject is from another medieval epic, the opening refrain from Macbeth: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air.”13 Shakespeare must have got the idea from the Bible, which calls Satan the Prince of the Air, but also the Prince of Darkness—that kind of air. He is also called the Prince of this World, who promises power and gain to all who will make a pact with him. The theme of Shakespeare’s tragedy is fraud and deception as a means of obtaining power and control; in the closing lines Macbeth admits that he has been taken in: “I . . . begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth,”14 i.e., the double-talk of the promoter that put him on top, the rhetoric of Madison Avenue: “And be these juggling fiends no more believed that palter with us in a double sense; that keep the word of promise to our ear, and break it to our hope!”15 The worst thing about the “filthy air” is that it turns out to be a smoke-screen; Macbeth is led on and put off from day to day until he is done in. It is a smooth, white-collar scam such as Macbeth half suspected from the beginning: “But ’tis strange; And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray ‘s In deepest consequence.”16 What kind of honest trifles? Such pleasant bits as those pacifying public relations assurances, “We are not monsters or ogres, we are people just like you. We love our families just like you, we go to church too!” Or to quote the scriptures, “I am no devil” (2 Nephi 28:22). That, of course, is all perfectly true—the workers are not the culprits, but the pawns of owners, who use them to justify profitable pollution while hiring as few workers as possible and paying them as little as possible.
Not only Wagner, but Ibsen, Shaw, and others call attention to the moral dilemma that beset the nineteenth-century industrial society, as it does ours today. When getting gain entails the destruction and degrading of life, what should we do? Undershaft, Shaw’s super tycoon, replies with the simple motto, “Unashamed.” The great fortunes that made America a world-class power were paid for by mill towns in which life was very near to hell. But the owners lived far away, and starving immigrants desperately competing for jobs were willing to submit to anything.
No more vivid description of that world can be found than one written in 1855 by a prominent Latter-day Saint living in England. I thought of his essay last fall. Looking toward Provo from Redwood Road where it enters the valley at an elevation to the west, I paused to behold the dense, murky, brown fog jammed against the mountains right behind the Brigham Young University by the prevailing winds, and I remembered the opening lines of the composition,
All nature smiles, and teems with health and brightness and fragrance, where you are, but over the valley before you rests an awful, impenetrable, dark, black cloud, . . . approximating to a realization of your ideal of the “dark valley of the shadow of death.”. . . You walk down the hillside, and, as you enter the thick, dark cloud, . . . you feel no more the invigorating influences [of the sun], . . . a sense of oppressiveness falls upon you, and you realize, to your unmistakable discomfort, that the darkness around [you] can not only be seen, but felt and tasted. Suddenly, to your great astonishment, you discover that this dreary spot is inhabited by human beings!17
He contrasts the situation with that of the Latter-day Saints “spreading themselves on the face of the earth, and carefully cultivating it,” invigorated by “the pure, bracing air, [and with it] health.”18
For 100 years, Utah Valley was idyllic. Agrarian economies, as we know, are the stablest on earth. They have existed for thousands of years throughout the world and are still going strong. Industrial economies, on the other hand, though surprisingly ancient, are expansive, acquisitive, extractive, unstable, speculative, competitive, destructive. In England it meant the Deserted Village, and the vast futility of empire. It has kept any attempts at achieving a stable American civilization off balance for 200 years.
Our Latter-day Saint philosopher of the 1850s tells us what he found when he entered the factory town: “Overpopulation—filth, want of employment, destitution, moral degradation, physical degeneracy, disease, and untimely death.”19 Who would ever have thought 135 years ago that this would be an accurate description of our inner cities today?
Men of science viewing such scenes deplore as possibly the worst aspect of the whole thing the fact that people can adapt themselves to such a life, especially if the alternative is starvation. How much can people live with? Do you recall the last sentence of Orwell’s novel 1984? “He loved Big Brother.” Or how people could go on for years resigned to daily life in the Gulag Archipelago? Or how the prisoner of Chilon finally refuses to leave his rat-infested dungeon because he has become accustomed to it? Jake Garn says that we should all learn to live with corporate pollution lest we jeopardize the profits of big business. But where do you draw the line? How much cigarette smoke should we tolerate, for example?
This brings up the question of degree or intent. To return to our ancients, Aristotle tells us that there are two kinds of goods which we are after in this life, goods of first intent and goods of second intent.20 Goods of second intent are good because they help us obtain other things. Thus a pencil, a watch, shoes, a hammer, a stove, etc., are all useful for obtaining something beyond their own value. Goods of first intent, on the other hand, are good in themselves and need no excuse; they are not the means but the goal. Thus millions of people take the plane to Hawaii—the plane is a good of second intent, it gets us there; but the delights of the islands are goods of first intent, whose enjoyment needs no explanation or excuse. People crave them for what they are and actually need them more than any of the amenities. Goods of first intent: “All things which come of the earth . . . are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart, . . . for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul” (D&C 59:18—19). Utah Valley, without the steel mill, offers treasures of first intent. The mill is not beautiful and for most of us has precious little utility. What is it then? It is a good of third intent, the one and only thing which is not good of itself, and not useful of itself but is prized above all else—it is money. Letters to the editor have been quite frank in telling us to wake up and realize that those dark clouds to the west mean just one thing—money.
Clear examples of third intent lie all around us today. Take the town of Beatty, Nevada, for example. “The residents here,” says the news report, “are dusting off the welcome mat for something the rest of the country abhors: a dump to house nuclear waste which will remain ‘hot’ for tens of thousands of years. . . . Despite protests by Governor Richard Bryan and others, . . . Beatty residents say they would welcome the dump, if handled properly, because it would mean an economic boost.” Only in southern Utah could we top such eagerness to sacrifice forever values both of first and second intent for number three, a quick monetary shot in the arm. Where else but in Utah would you ever find an Anti-Wilderness Society, composed of mining, lumber, and cattle interests? What? Making war on the lingering remnants of our precious wilderness already in full retreat, as people by the millions buy vans and camping gear, and take off to our over-crowded parks and national forests in forlorn search of remaining open spaces? Of course the object of the league is not to destroy the wilderness—those are the very men who like to play Wild West; their behavior is explained by one word—money.
Another example to convince you that there is such a thing as that ruinous good of third intent. A Houston financier bought the Pacific Lumber Company in 1985 by selling high-yield, high-risk corporate notes through Drexel Burnam Lambert, specialists in what some people call “junk bonds.” To pay off the $795 million debt they were logging the largest stand of virgin redwoods remaining. Instead of cutting some trees, the company was felling all the trees in selected tracts. Maximum harvesting of these trees, many over 1,000 years old, was to satisfy debts incurred. Needless to say, “spokesmen for the company” assured us that this was only common industry practice, and was not environmentally unsound.
They say production can be sustained indefinitely under current plans. Just wait 1,000 years and the clear-cut will grow right back again. Here one of earth’s supreme goods of first intent, unsurpassed anywhere in its haunting magnificence, exists merely to pay off junk bonds, third intent pure and simple. Not long ago a governor of California, championing the cause of those who were bent on turning all the groves into cash, uttered the famous one-liner: When you have seen one redwood, you have seen them all.
I grant you that the product of the operation is useful, a good of second intent; but how carefully do we balance the value of one against the other? Should whales be slaughtered to make useful soap and shoe polish? Should the sacred Blue Canyon of the Hopis be strip-mined to light millions of bulbs glorifying the gambling dives of Las Vegas?
When U.S. Steel moved in during World War II, advertising its vastly profitable operations as a selfless patriotic contribution toward making America strong and free, the people cheerfully accepted the inconvenience. After World War II, a new excuse was needed for uncontrolled pollution, and the smelters came up with the slogan, “The Solution to Pollution is Diffusion.” There would be taller smokestacks. But being still further pressed, they took the bull by the horns with a campaign brazenly proclaiming, “Mining is Beautiful!” adding “when it creates a common heritage.” Brigham Young never ceased telling the Saints that the one thing that would disrupt the civilization of Deseret was mining in the Territory. What the company called a common heritage was temporary jobs for “Chicanos, Blacks, Native Americans, and sons and daughters of the immigrants,” but I strongly suspect that the miners were as little aware of the heritage as the stock holders and owners were.
“Oh what a powerful argument human self-interest is!” says Tertullian.21 Here is a bold headline: “Timber Spokeswoman: Environmentalists Gag Free Enterprise.” But here is another by Jack Anderson: “Timber Firms Ax Free Enterprise.”22
Within the past ten days we have had a classic example of the overpowering argument of third intent. Last autumn Congress finally got through a bill against the fierce opposition of the billboard interests, tightening restrictions on the industry. Billboards are not ornamental, and they are not useful; they are strictly goods of third intent. For years now, enlightened communities throughout the land have put increasing controls on the things. But what do we find now in Utah Valley? The Herald displayed a picture of “officials cutting the ribbon on a new billboard campaign,” which is to adorn Provo and Orem with a rash of new giant signs, “hoping to encourage Utah County residents to keep dollars here.” At the same time we learned that the authorities are planning to attract more retirees to the state. The people I know who have moved to Provo from both coasts have done so expressly to get away from the ticky-tacky urban clutter of billboards, remembering the mountains and the clear, blue sky of their childhood—and we offer them billboards cunningly placed where the eye cannot avoid their impudent and offensive intrusion. And we think that is going to make us richer?
The first reply to complaints when the mill reopened was, “If you don’t like it then why don’t you just move out?” Again we have Brigham’s reply, “This is our home.”23 “This earth is the home he has prepared for us, and we are to prepare ourselves and our habitations for the celestial glory in store for the faithful.”24 “This is the habitation of the Saints; this is the earth that will be given to the Saints.”25 Again we have the support of the ancients. The earth, says Aristotle, was made to be a home for man, permanently, and for that he must achieve a stable balance with nature, harmonious and pleasant to all. Cicero echoes this sentiment when he says that the earth is a fit home for both gods and men, and man has his part to play in taking good care of the garden. This must be a stable, eternal order with man at the top of the animal scale, held most responsible if things go wrong.26
Notice that all these references are to one’s local home as well as earthly habitation. They are now one—where do you move when pollution is universal? Now the dispute takes on a wholly new direction. It is a new ball game. Heretofore we have always heard that air is free, and it is a free country, and business cashed in on the boundless ocean, as a free dumping ground for industrial garbage. But then Heyerdahl found his rafts floating in displays of garbage even in the remote vastness of the mid-Pacific and the mid-Atlantic. Last year we all held our noses as we watched the three-month odyssey of a scow loaded with 3,000 tons of waste, which it tried in vain to dump surreptitiously in various places. That no longer goes. If the ocean is finite, how much more so the limited airspace of the valley, an even less proper receptacle for tons of industrial filth, that must be inhaled by 250,000 people with every breath (taking in between 10,000 and 12,000 liters of air every day).
For nigh on 200 years, smoke-blackened skies were joyfully hailed as the sign of prosperity and progress, and still we hear the pious protests, “Are you against progress? Do you want to turn back the clock?” Again the answer should be seriously considered.
Before the late war [World War II], one could not buy a watch that did not have a phosphorescent dial. The things were immensely convenient and economical, indispensable. We could not live without them, and their manufacture gave employment to thousands of poor people, for it was largely handwork. In spite of all those great benefits and blessings touted by the industry, you cannot buy one of those watches today. We have actually turned back the clock on progress, made a technological retreat, trashed an indispensable commodity. But it took Jane Addams a whole generation to bring about that drastic change. Her argument was the naively simple one that making phosphorescent watches killed people, since the worker had to tip the tiny phosphorus-bearing brushes with her tongue, dooming her to the deadly phossey-jaw. But of course the disease took years to show up, and so for long years that was the franchise of the industry to continue. This is an extreme case, but the same delaying tactics are followed everywhere. You will recognize the likeness to the effects of breathing Geneva air. Maybe not so drastic, and not so quick, but granting the same license to pollute and jeopardize health.
But the problem is more serious than that. Every passing month brings forth new evidence from around the world that the physical danger entailed in the operation of such plants as Geneva is far greater than anyone had heretofore realized. The contribution of such combustion centers to acid rain, greenhouse effect, and damaged ozone is irreversible. Here an entire issue of the National Geographic (December 1988) asks on the cover, “Can Man Save this Fragile Earth?”27 We have long known that there is something wrong, if only by the duck test: if it looks bad, tastes bad, smells bad, and sounds bad in duplicitous argument, then it must be bad.
“The respect that makes calamity of so long life” is always the time element, allowing for endless obfuscation: No definitive proof, requires further study, experts disagree, a complicated problem, we are doing everything in our power, or we have done everything in our power (meaning in both cases we can’t do more and intend to go on stalling), we are leaning over backwards, studying the problem, we are bringing in our experts to reject the findings, only a small sampling, figures out of date, taking it under advisement, etc. Along with this goes a swelling liturgy of praise for the benign effects, the lofty intent, and boundless benefits of the operation.
Imagine an official offering a sizeable sum of money to a local institution with which I am associated. The head of that group says he would thankfully receive the generous donation the moment the company was ready to show him a letter from the EPA stating that EPA emissions standards, low as they are, were being observed at the plant. Being a lawyer, he knows the real nature of the offer and puts his finger on the spot, and there the matter ends.
A far better gift than cash handouts to our nature-loving Boy Scouts, and school children, and to the freedom-loving citizens attending the festival in July, would be “the clear blue sky [arching] over the vales of the free,”28 the clearer the freer, including freedom from respiratory complications in later life. But of course there is one serious drawback to that. The clear blue skies cost much more than the highly publicized handouts.
I could be accused of being prejudiced and extremist, but I would not have taken my position at all if I was not forced into it by the bristling headlines that have suddenly emerged on every side; and the issue never would have reached the covers and front pages of staid conservative journals had it not been thrust upon them by the crushing accumulation of evidence sounding alarm in all quarters. I was brought up in an alarmist atmosphere first by my grandparents, then by the Axis Powers, and now by a sea of frightening statistics; but especially the scriptures kept me thinking. After hearing Jack Anderson this morning, I feel that if anything, I am much too complacent.
I do not worry very much about Geneva anymore; it is only a small fumarole at the base of a mighty volcano which is now shuddering and groaning ominously. Brother Anderson said that he hears the great waterfall roaring just ahead. So let us both end with the Book of Mormon:
For behold, ye do love money. . . . O ye pollutions, . . . who sell yourselves for that which will canker, why have ye polluted the holy church of God? . . . Why do ye build up your secret abominations to get gain, and cause that widows should mourn before the Lord, and also orphans, . . . and also the blood of their fathers and their husbands to cry unto the Lord . . . for vengeance upon your heads? Behold, the sword of vengeance hangeth over you; and the time soon cometh that he avengeth the blood of the saints upon you, for he will not suffer their cries any longer (Mormon 8:37—41).
The following letter to the editor was written immediately after the original presentation:
February 16, 1989
Editor The Daily Herald 1555 North 200 West Provo, Utah 84601
People often say they do not understand me. They say it so often that I should have the sense to shut up in public. And now I have gone and done it again. Since it is a preacher’s duty to make himself understood, when he fails he owes his hearers an apology. And I fail every time I step into the past, where I prefer to spend my days. There my students lose me. The past simply does not exist for us today, except in old costume movies revived on TV. So the idea of the age-old confrontation between agriculture and industry in days long past rings no bells.
For example, nothing is more beyond dispute than that people who worked in mines and mills have throughout history been underpaid and overworked, living in unspeakably dismal conditions. Most of them right down to modern times have, in fact, been slaves. I have written feelingly about them. But to interpret the above statement as a description of the workers at Geneva, where friends and relatives of mine have worked from the beginning at far better wages than I ever received, is about as far as misunderstanding can go. And to say that it depicts them as hideous and deformed dwarves, forging the fatal Rheingold, either makes me the world’s worst communicator or denotes a hair-trigger predisposition to jump at conclusions.
Then why did I bring up the subject at all? We have here a discussion that has reached something like a stalemate. Each side accuses the other of being insufficiently informed, and both are right. I have the advantage of being equally uninformed on both sides, and look on only as a spectator. But what I see is a drama of immense age and impact, something that has been quite fundamental to the scenario of life on this afflicted globe. We are told that in cases like this, one cannot know too much about the subject, and in an impulsive moment acting on that unproven premise, I agreed to bring ancient instances into the discussion. That was a mistake. It is rash and foolhardy to go out for the recondite and esoteric stuff unless you are prepared to take it all the way, which is hardly to be done in half an hour.
Recently, indignant citizens have been reminding me of “what has made this country great.” Unfortunately they can only tell me what has made it rich—a very different thing, as Socrates would tell you. Every time the Nephites got rich they stopped being great. What has made us rich in the first instance is vast, natural resources. Just an hour before sounding off, I listened to Jack Anderson tell how the Japanese, with none of our fabulous resources, are able to run rings around us in almost every department, getting very rich indeed by all-out work and dedication. But that is not real greatness—the soaring Dow-Jones is not forever. To me the austerity, “plain living and high thinking” of old New England, the devout wisdom of the Founding Fathers, and the studious and courtly ways of a handful of Southern gentlemen showed us the way to be great—a way we have not followed.
Time did not allow me to give the conclusion to the talk, which was to declare that I no longer worry much about Geneva, that the only time it really got to me was on those sweet spring nights when every breath from the west reminded me of what I was missing. Unfortunately, breathing was not optional or I could have escaped that prejudice too. Today I see in Geneva a smoking fumarole at the base of a mighty volcano which is just about to blow—Jack Anderson’s talk left me in little doubt about that. I take small comfort in the conviction that before long circumstances are going to settle the problem for us. Sincerely, Hugh Nibley
* This talk was given 16 February 1989 in Provo, Utah, as part of a Clear Air Symposium at Brigham Young University.
1. JD 6:94.
2. JD 8:79.
3. Spencer W. Kimball, “The False Gods We Worship,” Ensign 6 (June 1976): 4 (emphasis added).
4. MS 22:738 (emphasis added).
5. JD 10:222.
6. Strabo, The Geography of Strabo XIV, 6, 5.
7. Plato, Critias 111A—D.
8. Ernst Wüst, “Puton,” in Paulys Realencyclopädie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, 23 vols. (Stuttgart: Druckenmüller and Waldsee, 1951), 21:1:998—99.
9. Ibid., 21:1:1000.
10. J. Zwicker, “Plutos,” in ibid., 21:1:1035.
11. William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens, act IV, scene iii, lines 28—29.
12. Phaedrus, Fables IV, 12.
13. William Shakespeare, Macbeth, act I, scene i, lines 14—15.
14. Ibid., act V, scene v, lines 49—51.
15. Ibid., act v, scene viii, lines 25—28.
16. Ibid., act I, scene iii, lines 137—41.
17. MS 17:337.
18. MS 17:338.
19. MS 17:338.
20. Aristotle, Metaphysics V, 2, 3—4.
21. Tertullian, De Spectaculis II, 89—90.
22. Jack Anderson, Herald 132 (2 January 1985): 21.
23. JD 8:297.
24. JD 8:294.
25. JD 15:127.
26. Cf. Cicero, De Natura Deorum II, 39; 45; 53.
27. National Geographic 174 (December 1988): front cover.
28. Charles W. Penrose, “O Ye Mountains High,” in Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), no. 34, verse 1.