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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of November 6 - 12, 2002

Opinion Columns

Always resist much, obey little

Commentary by DICK DORWORTH

"Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top."

Ed Abbey

"To the States, or any one of them, or any city of The States, Resist much, obey little;

Once unquestioning obedience, once fully enslaved;

Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, of this earth, ever afterward resumes its liberty."

Walt Whitman

These four little words, "Resist much, obey little," are identified in the minds of many with the iconoclastic American writer Ed Abbey, who died in 1989. They comprised one of his favorite sayings and summarized his attitude toward and relationship with Western culture, American society and the U.S (and every other) government. They are the title of a fine book of essays about Abbey by some of America’s best writers. They are words to live by, ponder upon, gain inspiration from, and use as a personal code.

Resist much, obey little.

While it is clear that Abbey thought of them more as a private policy than a group guideline, Walt Whitman had something different in mind when he addressed them "To the States." Abbey proudly described himself as "descended from an endless line of dark-complected, lug-eared, beetle-browed, insolent barbarian peasants." Whitman celebrated himself. Each produced a large body of great writing that had an enormous influence on the literature, culture and social/political consciousness of America. In addition, I believe both men led personally and socially meaningful, soulful, and, most importantly, raucously enjoyable lives. Such unusual accomplishment was necessarily accompanied by a refined crude sense of humor (Abbey in particular) and a constant adherence to those four little words: resist much, obey little.

"Society is like a stew. If you don’t keep it stirred up, you get a lot of scum on top," Abbey wrote. And what better way to keep society stirred up than by resisting much, obeying little. In all cases, in all places, in all times, in all hierarchical dynamics—secular, religious, civil, legal, military, familial, governmental, economic and any other man made entity imaginable—unquestioning obedience leads to a lot of scum on top. As any serious student of the stew of society knows, once the scum is in place, further unquestioning obedience tends to solidify and keep it there. Thus the ethic of all those who call for unquestioning obedience from others. The strength built from resisting and the knowledge gained from questioning make the individual (and the States) a threat to those whose power relies on keeping a scummy lid on things, which, of course, ruins the stew.

I am in agreement with Abbey that free people are honor and duty bound to keep the pot stirred. Resist much, obey little. It makes for a healthier and better tasting stew. There are many ways to resist much and obey little. One need not cross legal boundaries by assaulting the gods of private property through monkey wrenching, as Abbey both did and encouraged a generation of political/social/environmental activists to do. Nor need one even resort to being outrageous in stirring the stew and encouraging people to think, as Abbey did while serving (for one issue) as editor of the University of New Mexico’s literary magazine. On the front cover of the magazine was printed "Man will not be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest!" signed, Louisa May Alcott. Some were not amused. Others were greatly amused. All were forced to think, and making people think, of course, was Abbey’s job as editor of an intellectual journal. My old friend Ron Moroni was (for one issue) editor of the University of Nevada yearbook. In the section on fraternities, Ron chose to portray a different fraternal perspective than the traditional one of a generic head shot of each fraternity boy at his best: groomed, smiling, serious, studious and responsible, above average in all ways. Ron ran an outrageous photo taken at one of the more raucous parties inside the house of one of the more prominent fraternities showing several of the more prominent boys on campus obviously besotted with beer, disheveled in appearance, and supporting upon their laps a few naked hookers from Nevada’s legal brothel industry. Some were not amused. Others were greatly amused. The process of thinking was stirred in the community.

Resist much, obey little.

One need not cross legal boundaries or even be outrageous to resist much, obey little. In a democratic society where less than half of eligible voters bother to vote, a country where less than 25 percent of eligible voters cast their votes for the present President and (with the assistance of Jeb Bush, Katherine Harris and the U.S. Supreme Court) brought us the disaster that is our current administration, just the act of voting can be an act of resistance.

Just thinking about those four little words stirs the stew. Resist much, obey little.




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