Mallory has a post up about the nature of guilt and justice regarding American Indians today. I personally reject the guilt and I'm not sure that today's justice can be or should be applied. It's not that I am against the Indians. Like most Americans, I would favor the preservation of Indian language and culture. I like the fact that Indians are persisting and even prospering in places. I also like the fact that many are prospering within the mainstream economy. As a conservationist, I would love to see Indian lands preserved in their natural condition. Tony Hillerman is one of my favorite writers. I cried watching Dances with Wolves. What can I say? I haven't shot a buffalo in years.
The issue in my mind is that we are all victims, subject to the cruel Malthusian forces of economics and nature. And we are all victors. We are the ones who are alive today, no matter what our genealogy might tell us. We are all the ones who have benefitted from the exploits and exploitations of our ancestors. We are the products of the past, but we are not the past.
The forces that made us are usually underestimated. We think that we should have done this or that, but at the time there was really less choice than you might imagine. If I choose not to take money from an anonymous lost wallet, it does not mean that the wallet will remain unmolested until the owner returns for it. Economic opportunities will be exploited without mercy. We are all descended from those who picked up the wallet.
But we don't have to settle for that. Collectively we can make the rules better. Government can and must be redesigned to have sufficient strength, competence, and wisdom to impose justice and fairness on today's transactions, to preserve the productivity of the land for future generations. We don't have to sit idly while the Pirates pilfer our pensions and poison our planet.
Our government has, in fact, always tried to act in this way, to protect the land, to promote the common interest, to defend the helpless. It is however, a stupid and corruptible government, a rickety compromise, designed to balance multiple contesting forces and preserve some residue of sanity in our collective actions.
I've talked about alot of this before, and I imagine I'll be talking about it again. At any rate, I'm re-posting the comment I left for Mallory below:
In a capitalist, market-driven society, there is a terrible pressure to make the best use possible of land -- that is, to make the most economically productive use of that land, or any other resource. On the Jersey shore, for example, you will, in many places, find developers circling like vultures, looking for any means possible to acquire an underdeveloped lot. The phenomenon is called "tear-downs". They buy the comfortable old summer homes at high prices, tear them down, rebuild with giant, attractive modern homes, and still reap enormous profits.
During my life I've seen many productive farms eaten up by the tide of suburban growth. Farmers could not afford the property taxes; their children did not wish to become farmers because of the unfavorable economics; developers squeezed them out somehow. Sometimes they sold part of the land to finance the remainder. I have heard that even Foxcatcher estates, made famous by the duPont murder case, has been sold to developers.
Standing against this tide are local zoning boards and conservation groups. They can put the profit out of reach by mandating extremely large lots, or limiting the number of water hookups, or specifying rigid building codes. Sometimes they can purchase the development rights from a farmer in order to keep the land intact.
But these organizations are staffed by people. People are subject to persuasion and bribery. Believe me, these people can be very persuasive, and there is enough money there to pay for a lot of corruption and legislative influence. For instance, they can pay a town official to promote an anti-noise or anti-odor ordinance. Then they pay community members to complain about farm odors or noises.
This is the kind of pressure the Indians were under for a couple hundred years. They were defenseless against the farmers, just as the farmers are defenseless today, because the land was economically underutilized. This profit opportunity was more dangerous than that of the Gold Rush because it was relentlessly exploited and attracted swarms of the most unscrupulous men. The process fostered a vicious and profitable anti-Indian sub-culture. Are we personally responsible for this? Not unless we are in the position to change the flow of economic history.
1/3/2006 2:46 PM