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17 April 2001

Backpacking as Tribalism?

I mentioned on the message boards a couple of days ago the message from the editor in the current issue of Backpacker magazine. This month, the editor was responding to a newbie he dragged out backpacking who wanted to know, "Why do you do this?" The editor answers in print:

I've yet to find a definitive answer, but the search has yielded some interesting clues. Dave Foreman . . . says we're a "community linked by a sense of belonging not familiar at all." Rather than basing our existence solely around technology, we instead occasionally "turn to craft and to being" -- backwoods skills and experiencing the wilds, in other words. "We recognize we are part of the natural ecosystem in which we dwell, even if only temporarily," he continues. We enjoy "going back to the woods and a primitive state of mind. We seek old, traditional ways of organizing ourselves and our lives, turning away from hierarchy to tribalism." We are a tribe. Webster's defines "tribe" as "a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest."

I'm not quite sure where to begin with this nonsense. It's illustrative of the Sierra Club mentality that so many backpackers seem to have: because we go to the woods, we are superior intellects in the fields of philosophy and politics and letters and [fill in the blank]. It also illustrates that in most cases, that mentality is not in accordance with reality. The article is presumably going to give the editor's reasons for backpacking, but meanders into tribalism, which is never really described as a REASON for backpacking, then finally concludes (2/3 of the way through, rather than the end): "The answer is as unique and individual as each of us." So, he's given tribalism and individualism as equally valid "reasons" for backpacking, he's quoted a person who equates tribalism with turning away from hierarchy (I suppose he's never heard of chiefs?), he's called all backpackers a "tribe," he's intimated that backpackers are revolting against technology (I rather like Gore-Tex and cannister stoves myself), and he's misused the verb "harkens" (I didn't reproduce it above, but I HATE that error). In all, a massive performance in bad thinking and bad writing, even for a Sierra Club sort. I can't help but wonder why the "environment" and "nature" are dominated by these types. Maybe it's oxygen deprivation from the mountains (or not enough Purple Oxygen)?

I've always found it terribly funny to hear the Sierra Clubbers carry on about "getting back to nature and a simpler way of life" after driving to the backcountry in their SUVs, guided by GPS receivers, wearing wicking/quick-drying synthetics, with Gore-Tex rain protection, and using additional gear that is somewhat better engineered than a teepee! Now, I will grant that there are some people who truly DO go to the backwoods with hardly any gear, with the goal of surviving off the land. And that's fine -- whatever makes you happy! But 99% (or more) of us backpackers are the variety I described previously. We take well-engineered, well-considered technology out to the woods and use it to survive out there. It's nothing to be ashamed of, using our minds to overcome nature so that we may enjoy our experience without worrying about meeting a nasty, brutish end! Given the choice between my Arc'Teryx Bora 80 backpack, or the gear of my Cherokee ancestors, I'm pretty damn pleased with the more advanced technology! And so are all of these wankers who talk about "tribalism" and "getting back to nature." They just don't admit it.

Maybe they don't even understand. Left-leaning environmental types have an almost irrational hatred of the very technology they depend upon. But they are SO inconsistent and contradictory. To them, $400 backpacks are good, but nuclear power is bad. GPS systems are good, but electricity plants are bad. Gore-Tex-lined leather boots are good, but hormones and other animal-carcass-enhancing technology are bad. Along the same lines, tribalism is good, individualism is bad. It's all so simple to them -- if only one ignores the contradictions. And most of them do, while spouting their nonsense.

My response to the nonsense-spouting Executive Editor (make that Executive Doofus) at Backpacker magazine? Stick to reviewing gear and talking about pretty mountains. And stop calling me a part of your tribe, for gawd's sake.

[Posted @ 11:35 PM CST]

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