Edward Abbey

25 Ornery Aphorisms by Edward Abbey

by Poetic Outlaws | Sep 8, 2023

The American writer Edward Abbey was an anarchist, an environmentalist, a desert wanderer, and an absolute joy to read. He was known by his friends as “Cactus Ed.” No one, I believe, has written more poetically than he about the southwest landscape of America.

The desert to Abbey was like Walden Pond to Thoreau—a place that transcends everyday reality and revives the cultural-induced slumber of our primitive spirit. He writes in Desert Solitaire:

“I am here not only to evade for a while the clamor and filth and confusion of the cultural apparatus but also to confront, immediately and directly if it’s possible, the bare bones of existence, the elemental and fundamental, the bedrock which sustains us.”

Abbey wrote 21 books in his 62 years of life on this planet. Below are a few of my favorite witty aphorisms by Cactus Ed that you can find in his book, A Voice Crying in the Wilderness.

1.  Preacher to me: “A dollar for the Lord, brother?” Me to preacher: “That’s all right, I’m headed his way. I’ll give it to him when I see him.”

2.  I do not believe in personal immortality; it seems so unnecessary. Show me one man who deserves to live forever.

3.  Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.

4.  We should restore the practice of dueling. It might improve manners around here.

5.  Nobody seems more obsessed by diet than our anti-materialist, otherworldly, New Age, spiritual types. But if the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should be as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu, and seaweed slime.

Edward Abbey

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

7.  Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.

8.  Our big social institutions do not reflect human nature; they distort it.

9.  How to Overthrow the System: brew your own beer; kick in your Tee Vee; kill your own beef; build your own cabin and piss off the front porch whenever you bloody well feel like it.

Edward Abbey

10.  Only the half-mad are wholly alive.

11.  A drink a day keeps the shrink away.

12.  In the modern technoindustrial culture, it is possible to proceed from infancy into senility without ever knowing manhood.

13.  It’s a fool’s life, a rogue’s life, and a good life if you keep laughing all the way to the grave.

14.  If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves.

Edward Abbey

15.  Poetry—even bad poetry—may be our final hope.

16.  The best American writers have come from the hinterlands—Mark Twain, Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Steinbeck. Most of them never even went to college.

17.  The sneakiest form of literary subtlety, in a corrupt society, is to speak the plain truth. The critics will not understand you; the public will not believe you; your fellow writers will shake their heads. Laughter, praise, honors, money, and the love of beautiful girls will be your only reward.

18.  Our suicidal poets (Plath, Berryman, Lowell, Jarrell, et al.) spent too much of their lives inside rooms and classrooms when they should have been trudging up mountains, slogging through swamps, rowing down rivers. The indoor life is the next best thing to premature burial.

19.  Why do I write? I write to entertain my friends and to exasperate our enemies. To unfold the folded lie, to record the truth of our time, and, of course, to promote esthetic bliss. Like any writer, I’d rather be read than dead. Like any serious author, I’d rather be dead than not read at all.

20.  If wilderness is outlawed, only outlaws can save wilderness. The developers and entrepreneurs must somehow be taught a new vocabulary of values. I’m in favor of animal liberation. Why? Because I’m an animal. God bless America. Let’s save some of it.

Edward Abbey

21.  Man’s deliberate destruction of his own habitat—planet Earth—could serve as a mighty theme for a mighty book worthy of a modern Melville or Tolstoy. But our best fictioneers confine themselves to domestic drama—soap opera with literary trimmings.

22.  In social affairs, I’m an optimist. I really do believe that our military-industrial civilization will soon collapse.

23.  Science is the whore of industry and the handmaiden of war.

24.  Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.

25.  You can’t study the darkness by flooding it with light.

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