I went camping with some friends last weekend.Note the general absence of snow, which is disturbing when you’re up at 10,200 feet (3100 m.. Some of my friends like to have music all the time, so there was a set of Bluetooth-enabled speakers and plenty of digitized music covering the last fifty years of American popular song.
One song was older, however — Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land,” composed in 1940. It’s been covered multiple times by many famous musicians.
Only it hit me this time what an anthropocentric piece of Marxist crap it is.
You have heard the refrain, “This land was made for you and me.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Ol’ Woody, if not a Communist himself — he certainly hung around with them, and he claimed to be one — was expressing Marxist values there: There is nothing beyond “Man.” No gods, nothing supernatural. “Was made” does not really suggest that presence of a Creator; it’s just a statement of fact: All of this was put here (somehow) for us to use because we are the most important creatures in the world.
Communist, capitalist, what’s the difference when they share this viewpoint?
So I looked up at Sentinel Point and thought, supposing Ol’ Woody had written, “You and I were made for this land”?
It would not scan, for one thing. There would not be the gratifyingly drawn-out me-e-e-e at the end. There is nothing in his lyrics about responsibility or reciprocity; it’s mostly a diatribe against the idea of private property, so it has appealed to generations of disaffected intellectual backpackers.Let’s have a show of hands.
But just as a thought experiment, turn it around in your head. “You and I were made for this land.” Wouldn’t we owe the land something? Wouldn’t we have to admit that we were not the only “owners” of it — a concept far beyond in Guthrie’s line about “As I went walking I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing'” (talk about not scanning!)?
The concept of “source of sacred value” is completely un-Marxist, but I have one, and it is not “Man as the highest good.”
The next time I hear that song — and I am sure that I will — I am making that change, and a little pledge.
3 thoughts on “Woody Guthrie Got It Wrong”
For me, the song is definitely anthropocentric. Marxist, maybe. But also Christian, maybe. Okie down during the Great Depression, joining the California migration, surely. Folk Revival anthem popular around the globe, certainly.
But not Pagan. Or supportive of the sort of environmental awareness that I connect with Paganism of the post WW II California variety that I grew up with and into. Which locates all through its connectedness and is not very anthropocentric.
My altered refrain would declare: Earth’s Lands and Spirits and Life will be!
I just watched Neil deGrasse Tyson discussing with Bill Maher Republicans’ (obviously not all but most) unease (?) or outright dislike of the fact that we humans on this little ball of dirt, are just a speck in the universe. Starting at 3:45 watch Dr. Tyson’s response:
Not just Republicans — most people!
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