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12:00 AM, Sep 9, 1996 • By VINCENT CARROLL
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Reading The Lost Gospel, one continuously marvels that a man of Hayden's superficiality has played such a prominent role in left-wing political thought for more than 30 years. Indeed, Hayden fails to grapple seriously with any of the premises he lays down. He rails against technology and what technology has wrought, and seems disturbed by the culture of scientific inquiry itself ("Where nature becomes an object of intellectual conquest, physical conquest is not far behind"). Yet he also blandly insists he is not "advocating the wholesale rejection of science." He repeatedly mocks the idea that humans merit special consideration compared with other creatures; he even praises children because they do not "distinguish a moral hierarchy between trees, flowers, animals, and human beings" (a dubious notion, but never mind). Yet he never bothers to explore how such a view would translate into practical behavior.

If all nature is equally sacred, as he repeatedly maintains, need we lament the death of a trout as much as that of a child? Presumably not, one supposes, yet isn't a moral hierarchy implicit in that distinction? Or perhaps Hayden disagrees. He does describe how he gave up fishing because he "had looked into the eyes of too many fish and experienced feelings there." So, is fishing wrong? Is eating fish wrong? A score of questions spring to mind, all unanswered. For that matter, under what circumstances are we permitted to cut down one of those trees that we are all expected to revere?

Hayden is mainly posturing, of course. What he really wants is what he has always wanted: to assert moral superiority over the rest of us. It is his single, lifelong compulsion, and he does it today through the same rhetorical tricks he employed a full generation ago. Even Hayden has admitted, in his 1988 memoir Reunion, that he was "very wrong in certain of my judgments" regarding the Vietnamese. To wit: He "turned the Vietnamese into caricatures of revolutionaries," all kind, selfless, and wise. Yet Hayden apparently learned nothing from this rare moment of self-awareness. His descriptions of Indian virtue and wisdom in The Lost Gospel are no less monochromatic than his most gullible exhortations on behalf of the Viet Cong -- if anything, they are more so. Presumably Hayden never put fictional statements in the mouth of a Vietnamese. Yet in The Lost Gospel, he quotes Chief Seattle's environmental manifesto even though he knows, and admits, that "the technical accuracy of Seattle's speech has been rightly challenged." Challenged is one way to put it. The manifesto was written in 1970 by a screenwriter named Ted Perry.

Otherwise, the excesses of The Lost Gospel parallel the excesses of his earlier work almost stride for stride. There are the same disdain for mainstream liberalism (even Al Gore and Bruce Babbitt come under mild fire for failing to uphold an "absolute standard" for the rights of nature), contempt for his suburban American roots, demonizing of political opponents (who are now described as sinners), and comprehensive rejection of his culture.

Indeed, Hayden has been trashing Christianity and linking it to a predatory capitalism for decades. In his 1972 book The Love of Possessions Is a Disease With Them (it's a quotation from Sitting Bull, marking the author's early fixation on native genius), Hayden sneers at Vietnamese Catholics as "traitors to their people" who richly deserved their often brutal fate.

The apocalyptic tone that afflicts The Lost Gospel has been a longtime staple of Hayden's, too. He was once absolutely convinced that the trial of the Chicago Seven marked "the beginning of full scale political repression" and the waning days of the American "empire." He exulted in Trial, a 1970 tract, that "private property and puritan morality, while still endorsed by dinosaurs like the Nixon family," would soon be obsolete. Today his hyperbole, equally puerile, is offered on behalf of the environment. He writes in all seriousness, for example, that "fifty thousand Americans die in car accidents every year, and many thousands more from the tobacco, alcohol, and drugs that we take to steady our nerves. All these disorders of the modern world arise from our striving against nature."

All these disorders? Will none of us die in car accidents when paganism reigns supreme?