From a recent letter to a conservationist friend:
Our recent time with you in the cow trashed wilds has me thinking. All the time. I have tied myself into a knot.
I am working on writing some short pieces on economics and on the cowboy myth for a grazing coalition’s new website. I piled up and reread many of my sources on the subjects, particularly economics, going all the way back to Bernard DeVoto in Harper’s from the 30’s. I have discovered nothing new, but I am feeling paralyzed by the absurdities. Economically, nobody directly involved wins on public lands livestock grazing. Not even the rancher. And economically public lands livestock grazing is utterly unnecessary to the nation. But reading all the material has vividly brought home that despite the absurdity, nothing has changed in 25 years, not even in 75 years. In fact, it is getting worse. The extractors have gained power.
Looking at this fight from a distance, I would not want to be in the ranchers’ place. They produce nothing of significance. They require immense subsidy. They do much more damage than good. They are a puny minority working against the interests of the vast majority, a majority whom they depend on to subsidize their absurdity. And yet they prevail with an ever-tighter iron fist.
From our point of view, we need to reconcile to the fact that it is the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expect a different outcome.
We must do something different. I don’t know what it is.
Not that I know what to do about it, but it is slowly becoming clearer to me that, as in so many other areas, the hidden, unseen problem is the amount of power we have ceded to corporations in the last 100 years. In this case, it is the extractors powered by the likes of the Kochs, and the rural banks using escrow waivers dubiously based on public lands grazing permits to shore up their balance sheets (as you point out). I feel a little like astronomers must have when they realized there is something big out there that we are not seeing. They called it “dark.”