The Open Mind I: Call Me Irresponsible.

by A. Jay Adler on October 6, 2009
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Dear Shrink,

By this point I’ve enjoyed my long draft of Alka Seltzer (extra strength – and lemon-lime, to obscure that particular bitter taste), and brought up the deep grepts that expells the heavy load of indigestion.

I confess, I had hoped for a different beginning. But then I, according to some, am a liberal who, by definition, lives in a world of foolish hopefulness (and that is putting the best face on it). You, it appears, have some similar, non-defining impulse, too. You should check that in yourself.

The response of your commenters has changed the game.

I arrived home from an evening out and sat before the eerie glow of my laptop screen, my face bathed in a growing, fearful speechlessness. Not that Julia wished to talk about any of it.

When I wrote my introduction to our Open Mind experiment, I closed with a reference to Native America. It was, I thought, an obligatory – which is not to say unheartfelt – observation. To offer brief, equally heartfelt encomium, as I had just done, to our shared, founding ideals and not recall another, less flattering shared conception seemed impossible. After all, our blog claims in its subhead to report, above all, on our travels in Indian Country, before other terrains. Many take our blog title to be a reference to such reportage, though the About page tells a different story. This story, this Native story, is the guiding light of our travel. How could I, if only in passing, not?

Never anticipating.

Earlier in that day, I had conducted a long interview with Carrie Billy, a Big Water Clan Navajo and president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which advocates for the nation’s Tribal Colleges. One of the topics of conversation, as in all my interviews, was the widespread disregard among the general public of Native America, of its difficulties, of its uniqueness within the society, of the historic injustices, of the continuing injustices. Though I am well aware of darker sentiments – in the early 1990s, for instance, in Minnesota, during a period of dispute over fishing practices, I directly observed the non-Indians who wore t-shirts and baseball caps that declared “Spear an Indian, not a fish” – it was unconscious disregard I thought the relevant problem.

While the Dred Scott decision is justly reviled in the history of American jurisprudence, effectively overturned, in its principles, by the Fourteenth Amendment – and declared to be so by the Supreme Court itself in the Slaughter House cases – no similar revulsion attaches to Johnson v. M’Intosh, the 1823 Court decision that determinatively justified the European taking of Indian land, continued by the United States, by right of Discovery, claiming Indians to be “an inferior race of people, without the privileges of citizens, and under the perpetual protection and pupilage of the government.” Though citizenship was ultimately granted over a hundred years later, it is fair to say that the decision itself, and its historic significance, goes quite widely unknown. For most Americans, Native America is simply invisible. It is disregarded.

Life, however, about such beliefs, as in other matters, is self-correcting, a point of pride among many of your conservative readers – at least regarding conservatives.

That your readership – those among it that comment – is fiercely engaged, there is no doubt.  And they are readers, too, which should be a point of pride. Some, at your blog and mine, attempted to engage me, in gentlemanly fashion, on the issues. Some were congenial at the prospect of our exchanges. Others, however, having heard word that a liberal was coming to dinner, took that as permission from politeness to fart at the table.

Some did me the honor of visiting our blog and reading more of me, even going so far as to read “Aboriginal Sin.” If only they had done me the service of reading more closely, and better, and me, and not the straw man they reassuringly clutch to their chests, to spare them the effort of thinking – on each new occasion, with each new person – anew. With – what shall we call it – an open mind?

One reader perceived – not me, no, some moral grifter in his own mind – whilst I performed a duty to the current commitment of my life, as trying to “guilt-trip” you all. “I think I can sniff out a con game as well as the next person,” the reader said, “and I’m getting a strong smell of the long con here.” Surely, the acquired disability to recognize a genuine belief sincerely expressed, with a humane intent, is among the more regrettable losses of human affect.

Another, empathetic Canadian-based reader recognized in me and my views the reader’s self of twenty-five years ago. As my views, generally speaking – oh, yes, there has been evolution and alteration – are those of my own self twenty-five years ago, the anecdotal implication that conservative transformation is an evolutionary advancement of age seems properly, still, anecdotal and without argumentative force. Perhaps it was the Canadian Club.

Then there was the litany of smug stereotypes and condescensions

one thing that separates liberals from conservatives is that we conservatives are familiar with how liberals think whilst they have no idea what makes us tick…. We’re embarrassed that we once were impervious to facts, logic and evidence.

the only reason to talk to a liberal is to hone your skills at argument and deepen your understanding of what you really think….Talking to a liberal is something you do to strengthen your brain and remind yourself of the futility of it.

I like to think that we conservatives base our values on observed data, not on unfounded assumptions or utopian schemes.

In speaking with liberals it is not their ideas which are problematic but their absolutism. That their concepts are absolutely correct, that they must be universally adopted, that all disagreement is the true sign of a deficient lesser being and must be crushed.

Hmn. “Deficient and lesser being.” Why does that attitude seem eerily familiar? But let’s go on. One reader perceived in me, apparently, some morphing of the Red Coat into the Red Menace as he let loose this hysterical paean to Patrick Henry over coffee with Tom Paine

Compulsion on the other hand does not apply to me as long as I can still breathe and reload. I reiterate for the limited, I do NOT seek to overthrow anything or anybody, neither do I seek trouble with any man. But neither does my knee bend, not to ideology or man.

Whoa. And I didn’t even mention the NRA. Somebody get that man a Quaalude.

But all this is trifling. Really. It is trifling in the expression and in my consideration. I’ve smelled farts before.

The misreading and the misrepresentations among those so much more logical than I begin the substantive part of my disturbance.

Regarding the matter of guilt, I always say that while the crimes of conquest were being committed throughout the Western Hemisphere, my ancestors, including, theoretically, all four of my grandparents and my father were being raped and murdered by Cossacks in Ukraine. I feel no guilt. No one not involved in current injustice – and it exists – need feel any personal guilt. And I said this at the end of “Aboriginal Sin” (though perhaps that was too far to read)

We must do this not because we are personally guilty of the crime against native peoples. None of us lived when the genocide was committed, and in the United States most may not have ancestors who were even on the continent when these acts were took place. But if we are not familial, we are cultural descendents of those who committed this wrong, and like any people of conscience, we must accept the full legacy of that which we inherit, all that is so great and kind to us and all that is not.

“Aboriginal Sin” at no point argues, and I never – as so many of your readers seemed to mistake – that we as individuals are in any way sinful because of the history that was its subject. The claim, which it seems clear many of your commenters equally reject, is that the sin – like slavery – is a national, a societal, a cultural sin. I expanded on this theme in Historical Identity and Cultural Responsibility. Some of your readers still in need of an expectorant might wish to read it.

Similarly, several readers attack the straw man of the idealized Native. I wrote in “Aboriginal Sin” that “indigenous peoples need not be idealized to recognize the wrong that was done them.”

I was charged with detonating somewhere (one never knows that precise location of a specter): “Marxist revisionist post-modern neutron bombs” and being “very entrenched in Marxist labor/use theory and liberation theology” – every one of those descriptors being dramatically, laughably inapposite. It was charged by the same reader that I am “[s]omeone who cannot keep himself from evangelizing about the heinous imperialistic slave owning knuckle dragging cavemen who founded AmeriKKKa in his announcement of a blog experiment.” I take that expansive adjectival rush into KKKness as something of a fit, and fortunately there is a doctor in the house, but I challenge any reader to go return to my single clause, alone or within its context, and find justification for that ludicrous mini-diatribe.

Indeed, in “Aboriginal Sin” I wrote

Other nations have no basis upon which to feel condescension and contempt. Racism and cultural arrogance are observable all over the globe. When the imperial nations of the colonial era decided out of practical necessity and a growing moral imperative to forswear slavery and, ultimately, recede from their colonies, they had the luxury of withdrawing into homogenous cultures and maintaining mostly symbolic ties. It is the nations born of their colonies that have had to struggle to face the consequences and obligations of the African diaspora produced by the slave trade, and of the conquest and genocide of aboriginal peoples. It is in the New World and its outposts that the great laboratory was incidentally constructed to test whether human beings can ever live together, heterogeneously, in the face of what they have done to each other.

“Then again, my reading of it all might be wrong,” offers the reader.

Ah, yeah. But then I’m just a liberal, not, judging by descriptions of them, really entirely quite human. Why engage me in a fair-minded and unrabid state?

Let’ s now, though, focus solely and finally on the truly important subject, SW, which is not me but Native America. And as I focus, I’ll be asking some questions that can clarify thought, and they all have to do with making distinctions, a fundamental aspect of clear thinking. Such avowedly logical thinkers as we have among your local commentarial will surely address them with ease.

In the comments there was fairly common talk of American Indians in generality, as if they are a single group. Not to recognize distinction, of course, is to make something disappear. We recognize distinctions in words. To have no word for it is not to think it. If we do not think it, it does not exist. A commenter wrote, “The American Indian was ALL about tribalism. Tribalism, by definition, devalues the ‘other’.” There is certainly no devaluation greater than disappearance. You cannot be more “other” than unnamed. In documented history, who has been more “otherized” for more sustained periods, more pervasively, and  to more devastating effect than the Jew, the African under colonial rule and in slavery, and the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere?

The term “tribal” is problematic. Often, used pejoratively, it is itself a form of “other” creation. Almost any negative practice attributed to groups commonly defined as “tribal” can be found in abundance among groups not so designated. Reference was made to inter-tribal warfare. Can any European perspective ever be offered that condemns or diminishes other cultures on the basis of the frequency, extent, or mortal effect of their war making? What is the distinction? Among anthropologists it is found that many cultures referred to themselves as did the Navajo, and it is argued that this is a demonstration not of any elevated propensity for “other” creation but of the ethnocentrism common to all peoples. It is in the integral nature of cultures to prefer themselves over others. I believe I saw evidence of this in the comments

And the best culture won, frankly, and I am glad of it.

There are 562 federally recognized American Indian tribes. More, such as the Pamunkey, who were among the Powhatan Confederacy, present when the Jamestown colony was founded – and whom I have traveled now to see in Virginia – are State recognized. There are approximately 250 European languages in just 3 genetic units. Estimates are that there were as many as 1500 North and South American languages at first European contact. California alone has 74 indigenous languages, with 18 genetic units. Language is a fundamental designator of cultural identity. It is why the United States, through culture destroying Indian boarding schools, focused on denying the students forcibly removed to them their language. It is why so many in the United States care so much about the English language and resent claims of preference for others.

To deny the existence of cultural distinction – eliminate identity in difference – is to demonstrate The Dominating Mentality of Conquest. Readers may wish to engage it if they’ve some phlegm left to expel. Conquest has different forms. Domination is most profoundly exercised in the very blindness to it. The other isn’t even seen. For more, read The Honor of the Mascot.

One of your readers, commenting on the Mentality of Conquest, at the sad red earth (some utopian I!) took strong, disdainful issue with my reference to the Indians’ “inherent” right to be here in contrast to the “circumstantial” right of others. Now, you and I, so far, have identified one area of agreement – our resolute support of Israel. On what do you base yours? Mine flows in great measure from my identity as a Jew, but we both know that is no guarantee of the kind of support we both feel. Some assert a religious claim. The land was promised by the God of the Covenant. Not I. Nor most, I think. Jews have a right to a state, a homeland in Israel because of their historic connection to the land. It is an essential right, an intrinsic right, an inherent right, almost two thousand years later or not. To the point, anti-Semites, within the Arab world or without, will often attempt to deny the Jewish claim by absurdly denying the historical connection.

So we come to the argument your readers made more than once, that displacement of one people by another has been the course of human history. Interestingly, the first draft of “Aboriginal Sin” began on just that point. (But magazines have limitations in coverage and sharper focus was required.) But is there any distinction between migratory expansion, let us say, of early Homo Sapiens into Europe, because of any kind of sustainability or climatological impetus, through which it ultimately, evolutionarily, supplanted Homo Neanderthal, and a group enjoying the early or mid-level developments of civilianization – including codified behavioral norms – making war on another such group in conscious pursuit of material gain and the aggregation of cultural power?

Is there any difference between this second instance and a more advanced civilization – one with highly articulated religious beliefs, moral codes, and philosophical concepts, beliefs, codes, and concepts that would, by any measure, preclude and forbid it – engaging in the same behavior, and doing so with utter brutality?

Argued one reader

By our standards, that doesn’t make what the white man did right, but that is how everyone ‘played’ back then. And the operative ‘rules’ of the time are the only fair barometer in applicable judgment….It is in the liberal premise; that what is true for us now, should be the barometer of judgment for previous generations, wherein the dispute lies.

This question, then, is related to the last: when does “back then” cease to be “back then” and become now? What was the age – the year CE – of civilized majority at which national cultures became ethically responsible for their conduct and it was no longer acceptable to write transgressions off to some pre-moral, pre-responsible age of development? Did we reach it only with the Holocaust? Is that an acceptable Turkish defense for the Armenian genocide? Is 1890, the commonly designated end of the Indian Wars, the convenient demarcation?

This is not a matter, as one reader put it, of whether the European was an “outlier in history.” There was sufficient brutality, from the Spanish chopping off the feet of the Acoma Pueblo men who survived their attack, and enslaving them, to the pathetic concentration camp that for years was the San Carlos Apache Reservation, to the near extermination of the Pequot in 1638, to the display of the Wampanoag King Phillip’s head on a stake at the Plymouth Colony for twenty years.

There is among the comments an inclination, it seems, to defend the European conquest on the basis of its very success. That the American Indian could not resist the European advance is proof of European cultural superiority. That’s the way it was back then, and besides

thousands of years of human occupation of the Americas had not produced cultures that were able to both hold and defend the values in which Jay so deeply believes.

This all constructs an ages old theory of justice: might makes right. Thrasymachus argues in defense of it in Plato’s Republic. If your readers haven’t read it, I’ll recommend them to it. Socrates does a far better job of exposing the theory’s flaws than your humble correspondent could ever hope to do. And a good eighteen hundred years before the arrival of Columbus, too.

Some of your readers seem deeply perturbed that anything might be asked of them – responsibility for anything or anyone, and even money:

We’re supposed to feel guilty, yes, for things we had no responsibility for which happened long before we were born….But we can’t stop there, we have to do more to acknowledge our guilt and be redeemed: we have to give money. Reparations.

I’ve never said a word about reparations, and, of course, it is not for me to say. I will point out that the Black Hills of South Dakota, of which one reader wrote, were the subject of a suit that went before the Supreme Court. The Court, in fact, found for the Sioux, in 1980, and awarded them the value of the land in 1877, the year the land was taken in violation of the existing treaty. With interest, the amount came to $105 million. However, the Sioux do not want the money, but the land, and have refused the award, which today has grown to over $400 million.

But, as one reader wrote, “At the end of the day, people are just people,” all alike The Sioux just don’t seem to get that. Another deficiency, no doubt.

Here is a thought, though: let’s forget about reparations – some chance – and consider instead the two trust fund litigations, the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds and the Tribal Trust Funds, trusts that have been holding compensation to Native Americans for use of their land since 1887. Your readers can find informative links at the sad red earth. The former suit is now thirteen years old. In 2007 Alberto Gonzalez testified before Congress that the IIM monies could amount to over $200 billion. Not reparations, but the Indians’ money, which the BIA has misappropriated, and for which it cannot account. The case led Judge Royce Lamberth – a Republican appointee of President Ronald Reagan – to declare after ten years of presiding over Department of the Interior stalling over the case:

Alas, our ‘modern’ Interior Department has time and again demonstrated that it is a dinosaur — the morally and culturally oblivious hand-me-down of a disgracefully racist and imperialist government that should have been buried a century ago, the last pathetic outpost of the indifference and Anglocentrism we thought we had left behind.

Now there was an opened mind.

So, you see, no one needs to be responsible for the past, for anyone else’s actions. All we need do is be responsible for ourselves – I think we’re all in favor of that – and for our own actions, in the present. All we need do is give Native Americans what they are properly owed.

Well, now, for me, as I write, the hour is late, and this communication has been already two days delayed – and I’ve gone on very long. I want to close by offering you a series of quotes. Some are from among your readers’ comments, some are from the nineteenth century, from people who appear in the public record as, let us say, no friend to the American Indian. I have made some minor, cosmetic changes to the reader comments, altering verb tense and particular vocabulary that would be revealing of time period. Anyone is free to make comparisons to see if I have done anything unfair. I wonder if, without checking, you can distinguish them.

The Indians are children. Their art, wars, treaties, alliances, habitations, crafts, properties, commerce, comforts, all belong to the very lowest and rudest ages of human existence. … they are utterly incompetent to cope in any way with the Europeans or Caucasian race

Indians have no concept of mercy and compassion. Those concepts are entirely foreign to their culture. The proverbial ‘law of the jungle’ is fully operative in their cultures.

If they stand up against the progress of civilization and industry, they must be relentlessly crushed. The westward course of population is neither to be denied nor delayed for the sake of all Indians that ever called this country their home. They must yield or perish

As for ‘stealing the land’ from Indians…stealing is the Indian’s standard ‘modus operandi’. You can’t do the right thing and buy the land from the Indians in an honest trade for they have no concept of private ownership, nor of tribal ownership beyond that of ‘might makes right’.

Of all the groups in America I have seen and lived around, Indians are the most personally corrosive and socially destructive I have encountered, bar none.

The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian

Wherever they go, this inferior native population, as a result of amalgamation, and that great law of contact between a higher and a lower race, by which the latter gives way to the former, must be gradually supplanted, and its place occupied by this highest of races….

Open minds? Maybe with a forceps to the cranium.

Yours truly,

AJA


26 comments

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Neil October 9, 2009 at 8:46 pm

AJA – You are listing examples where, true enough, responsibility does not lead to guilt. But the case we are discussing is one where responsibility DOES equal guilt. The fact is that you are asking me to accept the responsibility to redress a wrong because I might have some vague connection to the people who did it. Please understand that I take responsibility very seriously, and that I cannot accept this one without accepting guilt as well. I’ve tried to explain why but it is apparently beyond my abilities to do so, so please just accept that if I am responsible for a wrong, then I share guilt for the wrong. If I share responsibility for a murder, then I am guilty of the murder. If I share responsibility for a rape, then I am guilty of the rape. Frankly, I find it disturbing that you don’t understand that.

By insisting that the acceptance of responsibility must come BEFORE any discussion of an actual problem, you are essentially demanding that I give up any right to logically analyze what problems Native Americans have, and what may or may not best be done about it. You are demanding that I start the conversation by giving up my right to participate in the conversation.

You may think that my definitions of responsibility and guilt are silly, but please don’t attack them any more. After all, under the terms by which I choose to live my life, your ability to accept this societal responsibility without guilt would be dishonorable.

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Nightelf October 9, 2009 at 7:46 am

There is a coherently reasoned philosophy behind it, of ethics, of politics, of the role of the nation-state.

Jay, you may have an elaborate superstructure of reasoning on it, but fundamentally it comes down to your feeling that something is owed in the present for events in the distant past, that there is some justice waiting to be delivered. You like to use the word ‘responsibility,’ but because you have based this on your perception of a huge crime having been committed I feel I’m right to use the word ‘guilt’ to describe your concerns. In other words you are declaring us all to be ‘guilty’ in some shared mystical inherited complicity in this great crime. I reject totally the notion of inherited complicity in any such ‘crime.’

For most of us responsibility has to do with what we owe to our families, our friends, our communities, actual persons living in the present who we can help and give comfort to. The Germans were able to give reparations to actual victims of the holocaust. I feel we have responsibility to our nation inasmuch as we believe in the justice of its laws and that those laws are meant for the benefit of our fellow citizens. Your concern over past wrongs seems misplaced to me in that there is so much in the present that needs our attention.

I feel we’ve done quite enough for American Indians living today. We have maintained the reservations, we have given them exclusive fishing rights, we have allowed them to operate gambling casinos in places where they would be otherwise illegal. And much more. Any more indulgence, I fear, would weaken them, create helplessness and dependency. I suppose you’d say it is never enough. Reminds me of a play by Sean O’Casey where a man, crippled in the struggle, is about to be executed for being an informer. He has already lost his legs for the IRA and as they’re dragging him away he pleads, “Haven’t I done enough for Ireland?” IRA thug: “No man can do enough for Ireland.”

I’m afraid there is really no reasoning on the issue of “shared guilt” or “group responsibility’, or whatever you want to call it. It’s like the abortion issue. Some people feel abortion is murder of a human being, others don’t. You can debate those basic beliefs with reasoned arguments but it won’t get you anywhere. On the other hand there are many issues in the liberal/conservative dialogue that can be reasoned and ways to solve problems (real problems) can be discussed. I would not like to be stuck in this rather arcane discussion of shared guilt; enough has been said already. We could turn to some of the many important issues of the day, such as, how to stem the violence in inner-city neighborhoods, how to deal with Islamic terrorism, how do we protect the environment and not inhibit our national economy, how to educate our children… the list goes on. I’m certainly open to any and all of those topics and I would like to see your input.

When I signed up for this interchange of ideas I was under the impression that you had a stable of commenters and we’d have some interesting debates among us. As it is I feel we’re piling on. Hope it’s okay. In any case thanx for the opportunity to discuss these issues.

Reply

A. Jay Adler October 9, 2009 at 8:22 am

First, I very much enjoyed the IRA joke. Second, while I obviously would dispute comments you have made here on this topic – which I never intended to be our first – I agree it is time to move on (there’s a phrase!) to another topic. I will point out, though, that in accepting the appropriateness of German reparations (which, I’ll repeat, I’ve never argued for – there are many other ways to address the issue), even while limiting the appropriateness to “actual victims,” you do accept the principle of a collective national responsibility. That then moves the discussion to when expressions of that responsibility are appropriate and when not – an achievement in the discussion, I think.

Finally, as a much younger blog – less than a year – we have a smaller, less consistent group of commenters, who have so far chosen to remain absent from the discussion. I regret that absence has diminished the variety of the debate. You’re kind to worry about piling on, but I’m fine – I’m from New York. (That’s tribal identification and pride showing.) I’ve increasingly enjoyed the exchanges, and maybe with some time the liberal voices will return in greater number and grow. The next topic is SW’s choice.

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Nightelf October 8, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Jay, you suggest that ‘many millions’ share your peculiar notion of ‘collective responsibility.’ That doesn’t mean it’s not hokum. People believe all kinds of dumb things. I.e., ‘truthers’ and homeopaths. Like many religious beliefs it’s irrational. Good grief, we’re talking about events that took place more than a hundred years ago! Are you saying you feel responsible for ghosts? Maybe it’s time to move on.

Reply

A. Jay Adler October 9, 2009 at 5:04 am

Really, Nightelf, you’re not paying attention, and misconstruing what I state – and that is unfair. I referred to the many millions who share my belief in answer to your characterization of it as “idiosyncratic,” not to support the substance of the belief. I stated in my last reply to you that the notion of specifically, national-cultural responsibility for national acts, not any inheritable group responsibility in any other context, is not a religious belief but an ethical one, (one I suspect you would share in other contexts, such as defense of the nation were its very survival threatened.) There is a coherently reasoned philosophy behind it, of ethics, of politics, of the role of the nation-state. It is the justification for German reparations to Israel. While you may find the philosophy inadequately reasoned to this particular conclusion, and unpersuasive, that certainly does not render the conclusion irrational. I have also already offered, briefly, in the comments, including quoting from my position as expressed in another post, responses to the “move on” argument. I’ll have more to say on that position in other posts.

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Jimmy J. October 8, 2009 at 11:02 am

By the by, as long as we are talking about historical wrongs, why not take up the cause of Hawaiian independence? As you may well be aware, the U.S. stole Hawaii from the Hawaiians. Now the Hawaiians want it back. Seems like an easy thing to do. Just cede the islands back to all those who have any percentage of native Hawaiian blood. They can then become a sovereign country and begin the process of annihilating any non-native culture. Oh, and yes, all non-native plants or animals.

My argument en reductio ab absurdam can go on and on because there are literally endless cases of more recent (within a 100 years)cases of racial, ethnic, and sovereign injustices that can be addressed. But as non other than President Obama has mentioned, it is much better to move on, look ahead, and not wallow in all the mistakes and crimes of the past; even the last eight years. As you mentioned, there is no perfect justice, there is no perfect world, and few wrongs of the past will ever be made right. What we have is this moment and the opportunity it affords. Unfortunately, many do not want to seize the moment and move on, but to wallow in the dead end alley of victimization or blame.

My Scottish ancestors were banned from Scotland for losing the heart of the slain King as they returned from the Crusades. They lost all their lands and animals and were banished to Ireland. I have no doubt there were hard feelings about such a punishment, but they just went ahead and played the hand they were dealt. Otherwise the clan would have no doubt perished if they had spent all their time engaged in a pity party.

History is filled with injustice, holocausts, murder of cultures and the like. That it has occurred before does not make it right. We are becoming more tolerant, more accepting, more open to new ideas and new cultures as we proceed toward the future. The very fact that our military takes risks to avoid collateral damage on the battlefield is an enormous step forward. The fact that we are preparing to leave Iraq to the Iraqis is an enormous step forward. The fact that we are willing to spend blood and treasure to help Afghanistan become a stable country with an acceptable government is an enormous step forward. Solving the problems of how to live together in peace and prosperity worldwide is no easy thing , but we are further along than we were in 100 years ago. Progress is slow. Humans are not angels. Maybe trying to redress old injustices is work that some, like you, need to do. I think more progress is made by taking what lessons we can from the past and then moving forward.

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 6:09 pm

Actually – you have a point about Hawaii. And sorry to disappoint about Obama, but I disagree with him. About the past eight years too.

And now I know that when I screw you tomorrow, I can just wait until the day after and claim it is time to move on. For we only have the moment, and you shouldn’t play the victim. (I’ll also be expecting you to forswear civil litigation and to make all efforts to thwart criminal prosecution for any crime against you.)

Or if one day is too soon, where is the cut off, and who gets to determine it, according to what criteria?

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Geoffrey Britain October 8, 2009 at 10:07 am

MaxedOutMama,

Evidently, I am missing implicit suggestions within my statements. But for the life of me, I cannot ascertain what you are talking about when you state, “Geoffrey, if you will read the history of the Three Tribe Federation, perhaps you will understand why I do not like your theory that the outside governments should be able to change the rules on the reservations if the groups on the reservations are too prosperous.” If I am missing an implied assertion in my comments, I certainly do NOT believe that “outside governments should be able to change the rules on the reservations if the groups on the reservations are too prosperous”

Not only did I not make that suggestion, at least consciously, but as I say I cannot find where I even implied that assertion…perhaps I’m being obtuse? Or is it, as I suspect, that you’ve mistakenly assigned to me someone else’s assertion?

And this compels me to mention that your prior response, where you say, “No, No, No, Geoffrey. I wasn’t referring to your comment above, but to the prior one on SW’s announcement post. If you take the use of a land, you are grabbing it even though the titular ownership remains in the original lands.” leaves me puzzled as well.

I went back and reread my comments in that post and again cannot ascertain where I even implied that suggestion…? In any case, I agree that the action of taking the use of a land, is to all intent and purposes, grabbing it, even though the titular ownership remains in the original lands…

On another note, I find of interest your assertion that Kelo V. New London is potentially a ‘dagger’ aimed at the heart of Indian self-determination.

I’m not sure I agree because I’m not sure Kelo VS London could be made to apply to tribal lands.

Kelo VS London is about the government (local but perhaps precedent for state & federal) using eminent domain to transfer land from one private owner to another to further economic development. But are Indian lands under personal, private ownership? Isn’t the ‘ownership’ categorized as public, tribal ownership?

It’s my impression that tribal reservation lands are, in effect, sovereign nations. Certainly they are semi-autonomous. I realize there’s a gray area but if that is so, wouldn’t the terms of the treaties establishing the reservations override Kelo VS London?

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Neil October 8, 2009 at 8:22 am

Mr. Adler, I think the difference of opinion here is that you are thinking purely of your words. I and others are thinking ahead to the *consequences* of your words.

Jay Adler says: “I continually speak of ‘responsibility,’ and you, here, and others, keep misrepresenting it as ‘guilt.’

The dictionary says: “guilt: 2)a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.”

I understand you want me to accept responsibility for a crime without feeling guilt. Neither I nor the dictionary see much difference. Furthermore, as far as I can tell, you wish me to be treated in a material way as though I am, in fact, guilty of something. Oh, yes, you claim you’re not talking about reparations, but you also talk of our obligations to the Sioux, who have refused cash settlement of their treaty claims and insisted that others, innocent of any actual wrongdoing, be dispossessed of their lands to satisfy the treaty.

Please note that I am not trying to minimize the question of whether or to what extent Native Americans have been wronged. However, it is difficult to have that discussion when you insist I take “responsibility”, as you say, for a crime before I’m allowed to have an opinion as to the crime or the punishment in question. By so doing, you actually impede reconciliation and healing.

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 6:01 pm

Neil, you invoke a very limited definition of the word “responsible..” You feel responsible for you children. That is not guilt. You feel responsible to seek the owner of a wallet you find that contains identification. That is not guilt. You feel responsible for yourself. That is not guilt. You feel the responsibility to play according to the rules. That is not guilt. I could go on. We should – many people believe – feel responsible to deliver, as best as we are able, justice to our fellow citizens, as we seek justice from them.

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Nightelf October 8, 2009 at 7:42 am

But you are working from the wrong direction. Individual responsibility, by my argument, in a matter like this, emerges from (not just any group) national responsibility. And it is not activated (other than if one feels it) on an individual level, but a collective, national level.

Jay, I know this is a matter of metaphysical belief for you, but you can’t expect others to automatically share your idiosyncratic personal belief system. Whether you call it ‘cultural guilt’ or ‘collective responsibility’ you are asking us to accept a religious proposition (questions of guilt and redemption are religious questions) on faith. Wasn’t it Wittgenstein who demonstrated that all metaphysical propositions are meaningless? It is as if I told you that you had offended the god Apollo and you had better make offerings or something bad would happen to you. You would naturally (I hope) tell me to go fly a kite, that you don’t believe in Apollo and that for that matter the idea of a humanoid god with capricious emotions is entirely foreign to your way of thinking. It’s the same with this idea of collective guilt; I, and others here, just don’t believe it.

Somebody said the difference between liberal guilt and regular guilt is that with regular guilt you feel guilty for something you’ve done, with liberal guilt you feel guilty for something somebody else has done.

You conflate cultures and tribal or racial groups, the boundaries of which are extremely vague and changeable. Just as there was no one American Indian culture, just as there is no single American culture. Indians, as MaxedOutMama points out, were very adaptable and dynamic. It’s like trying to define fog. You speak of cultures being ‘annihilated,’ but that’s not the way it is in the real world. As soon as cultures meet and begin to interact they influence and change each other. Mainstream American culture has elements of all the minorities that have been integrated into it. A large percentage of words in our common usage are from other cultures. Just as in Spain, for example, we have the separate influences of the Roman, Moorish, Christian and Gypsy cultures combining to form a rich artistic/musical/architectural tapestry. There is no place on earth where this is not true. Here in America our arts and music, food, lifestyles and ways of thinking are assimilated from other peoples and other nationalities. I think Jimmy’s point is that once you start defining cultures and folkways as if they were solid entities and assigning victimhood to them with formulas for reparations and redemption you are going to find yourself in a hopeless tangle. It is an exercise in absurdity.

There may be various treaty obligations that the American government is legally obliged to honor. We should honor those obligations so far as they are found to be legally binding and I suppose for that we have to defer to the Supreme Court. For all the rest, all this talk of group responsibility for events long past, I just don’t know what you’re talking about. Sorry, I’m an atheist when it comes to that form of theology.

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Nightelf, there is nothing either metaphysical or religious about it – or idiosyncratic. It is an ethical belief shared my many millions. You simply do not share it.

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MaxedOutMama October 8, 2009 at 5:50 am

Having thought it over during the night, I now feel that is fair to point out that Jay is quoting me above to demonstrate the REVERSE of what I wrote and what I believe. When I pointed out that the better culture won, I was thinking not of the cultural details but precisely of the fact that might doesn’t make right. I was thinking of the universality of our law structure. And Jay quotes me again about the indigenous cultures being unable to understand and defend the concept of universal law and then writes:
“This all constructs an ages old theory of justice: might makes right.”.

Oh, no. This is an inversion of my previous comment. I’m not saying that Europeans had a “right” to do what they did under our present conception of the law. I’m saying that I believe the better culture won because it has evolved and tried to enforce the idea that might DOESN’T make right. (Although since reading Kelo, I have been uncertain that we will continue in that direction.)

I am not impressed by the recommendation to read Thrasymachus when the recommendation comes from a source who isn’t reading the current comments carefully, and is imposing his own narrative over what he thinks we said. It does little good to read if one does not first clear one’s mind and read what the other is saying.

I also found myself struggling with a soul-deep rejection of the comment about cultural extinction. But it is a long topic. For now, I will just comment that the native American cultures were mostly very flexible and dynamic. The buffalo-hunters had just a few hundred years with horses; the Cherokee mostly were already living in a village/city framework, and so to me one of the innate traits of Indian societies is that dynamism. I thought of all my friends who do have strong ties to a reservation. (Born, lived, have relatives). I think none of them would accept the idea either. They are programmers and analysts and nurses and architects and builders and farmers because that is what they have chosen to be, and I am quite sure they do not feel that that choice is a denial of their own heritage. Indian cultures were mostly about survival, and nothing destroys a culture more than not being self-driven, self-organized – independent enough to form its own goals and its own plans. Indians were not racially identified, you understand. They were group identified. That “we” is not a racial group; to take it that way is to impose a foreign concept upon the native culture.

I do feel that Copithorne and Neil are addressing a good point. Can we discuss these matters? I think we can if we address the pragmatic issues and not the overarching ideological framework. I doubt that anyone here denies the idea that universal laws and ethics exist. I doubt that anyone here denies that deep wrongs were done. I would say that the wrongs occurred on both sides, and I don’t think the ability to go back and undo most of these wrongs exists. We can argue each individual case or claim, but on the whole I dislike concentrating on what happened 200 years ago because it diverts attention from what happened 70, 60, 50 and 40 years ago, and what may happen next.

The story of the Garrison Dam demonstrates what is still happening to Indian groups.
http://www.mhanation.com/main/history/history_garrison_dam.html

Geoffrey, if you will read the history of the Three Tribe Federation, perhaps you will understand why I do not like your theory that the outside governments should be able to change the rules on the reservations if the groups on the reservations are too prosperous.

And, your most esteemed professorial self Mr. Adler, the only way that Indian groups are going to be able to defend their claims in the future is with money and social and fiscal autonomy. The cycle of dependence on the central government and resulting robbery must end, and for it to end, all the groups must evolve ways of life that involve NOT taking from the government and being able to defend claims as a group. Nothing has done so much damage to Indian groups as sitting around waiting for the BIA to show up and do it for them.

I think your readers might genuinely learn something if you choose to pick one recent example, give the history and the legal background, and then we can all discuss that. Without the details, there is little to discuss. The reason courts do not take questions in abstract is because the details are important.

Anyway, you seem like a very decent man, but I think Siha Sipa was telling a truth when he talked about the cartoonish aspect of characterizations of Indians by the wider culture.

The truth is that the biggest threat to Indians is Kelo V. New London. Because nothing prevents us from buying land, putting it into a trust, and self-organizing into the type of communities that most reflect our desires for our own culture but Kelo V. New London. It is this type of random eminent domain that will destroy such attempts; the theory that not generating the most tax revenue from land or a resource justifies seizure by government IS THE MODERN EQUIVALENT OF MIGHT MAKES RIGHT.

So thus I come back to my original comment about universal law. Like it or not, the fate of Indians in the US is not distinct from the laws of the broader culture. We are not extinct, but this theory of government is a dagger aimed at our hearts.

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 6:51 am

MaxedOutMama,

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with nearly everything you say here. I see how you say I misread your comment (though I don’t know that its point was so clear in its original context). As you state it here, I think it very compelling – so compelling, in fact, to me, that it is the very point I make against those on the far left who find the United States and the wider Western culture the point of blame in its conflicts with current and many twentieth century enemies. It is Western Culture that is the source of the values and standards by which its enemies condemn it.

That said, it does not follow that because I mistook your comment I am not, in general, reading the comments carefully or that anyone shouldn’t read Plato.

I am unclear what comment about extinction you refer to; the observations that follow do not seem related to anything I think.

You write

I don’t think the ability to go back and undo most
> of these wrongs exists. We can argue each individual case or claim, but on the whole I
> dislike concentrating on what happened 200 years ago because it diverts attention from
> what happened 70, 60, 50 and 40 years ago, and what may happen next.

Well, I agree. We cannot go back. The wrongs cannot be undone. There are current problems to address. However, one reason for considering the past is to connect it to the present, in order to substantiate present policy needs and action. If people reject the relation of the past to present problems, then there is diminished support for current policy initiatives. I agree with you completely that ” the only way that Indian groups are going to be able to defend their claims in the future is with money and social and fiscal autonomy.” Many commenters, however, seem very unsympathetic to the allocation of money or to the notion of social autonomy.

The single case I have focused on for two years now is Cobell v. Salazar, the Individual Indian Money Trust Fund litigation, and now the later filed Tribal Trust Fund litigation. These monies are not reparation payments – they are the profits to varied Native American individuals and tribes, separately, for the commercial use of their land over a 122 year period. The U.S. government cannot account, through audit, for the monies, and currently, in court argument, claims to owe nothing. Again, links are at the sad red earth.

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Neil October 7, 2009 at 11:21 pm

copithorne says: “So, for example, a discussion of Native Americans is going to be experienced by conservatives as an attempt to allocate blame”

Beg pardon, but according to our host, I am expected to share in my society’s “guilt”, and he apparently is advocating that the government take something ( presumably money or land) away from me and give it to someone else in order to expunge that guilt from society. I don’t know if I’m being “blamed”, but I am certainly being fleeced.

You say the point of this discussion should be “organizing public solutions to public problems”. But our host has not presented some problem that can be solved by the simple application of money. The only problem he presents is my society’s guilt (for which I shall be punished personally) and my supposed unwillingness to admit said guilt. My claim is that I am not personally guilty, whatever my ancestors may or may not have done, and therefore I should not be personally punished. Now you are turning around and claiming that any denial of guilt on my part is evidence of some unhealthy transference or projection.

So basically, in your mind, you’ve set it up so that either I meekly provide money to one of your favored groups, or I am regarded as mentally unstable. Are you, then really approaching this conversation with an open mind? Or are you simply inventing a clever rationalization to avoid thinking about my logical objection?

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 5:25 am

I continually speak of “responsibility,” and you, here, and others, keep misrepresenting it as “guilt.” I speak, in only the vaguest manner – I have offered no specific course of action – of justice to others, and you mistake it as “punishment” to you.

You only make copithorne’s point.

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copithorne October 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Lovely writing, Mr. Adler. Thank you for your passion for Native Americans. It is haunting how Native Americans have been erased.

My conclusions were that dialogue is not likely between these two American tribes of conservative and liberal because conservatives have oriented themselves to projecting their super ego onto ‘liberals’ and then doing battle with this projection as adolescent rebellion.

So, for example, a discussion of Native Americans is going to be experienced by conservatives as an attempt to allocate blame and there will be a passionate defensive effort to allocate blame away from the conservative interlocutor and his or her tribal identifications. Discussions of wealth and poverty will only be experienced as allocating blame. Discussions of environmental threats will only be experienced as allocating blame. Discussions of race will only be experienced as allocating blame. Any argument that public policy should chart a new course or that it should be disciplined by moral reasoning is experienced only as allocating blame.

As you document well, your readers’ experience of being blamed did not come from your text. Where does it come from?

The hope and the test to bypass that fruitless conversation would be to orient the conversation towards concrete practical policy consequences and problem solving. I’ve come to the conclusion that our political discourse does not and will not get there because the point of contemporary conservative political engagement is this displacement of blame. The point is not organizing public solutions to public problems. There is not a shared framework.

If there were policy differences, well those could be debated rationally and reasonably. It is not difficult at all to debate policy differences – to have open minded consideration of evidence and arguments. But policy differences are not what divide contemporary liberal and conservative.

But, hey prove me wrong.

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Jimmy J. October 7, 2009 at 7:08 pm

Jay,
You say that none of us should feel guilty or sinful as individuals because of what happened between 1492 and 1890 as regards the American Indians. I agree with you about that – so, no argument there.

Then, however, you state that we, as a nation and culture, should most assuredly acknowledge and feel responsibility for what happened during that period. That there has been a great wrong that somehow can be made right. You say this nation must simply, “give Native Americans what they are properly owed.”

You mentioned the action brought by the Sioux for return of the Black Hills and the return of money in two trust funds to the Indians. Is this, in your opinion, what is properly owed? The Black Hills and $500 billion – then it’s over? We can then hold our heads high and call ourselves a responsible, compassionate nation?

When the money is turned over, who will decide who gets what? Will thoseof us with some Indian blood be in line to get what is properly owed us? Will the Tulalip Tribe be in line for as big a share as the Siha Sapa? If not, why not? What about those who have left the reservation and integrated into the white man’s culture like MOM? Will this be decided in the white man’s courts or in tribal councils? If the Sioux take possession of the Black Hills, who will decide which Sioux get to live there? Will Sioux who have left the reservation be allowed to take up possession of some part of the land? The questions seem endless and the litigation the same.

You will undoubtedly not find this amusing, but I have a rather warped, “mixed breed” mind. My solution to reparations for African-Americans has always been to determine the value of the 2.5 acres and a mule in 1865. Multiply that by the number of slaves actually in captivity in the south in 1865. Adjust the figure for inflation, and then distribute equal shares to all those who can prove that they are descended from southern slaves. The responsibility for determination of eligibility and distribution of the money would be given to Reverends Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I think that would be eminently fair and would provide a great deal of income for lawyers as well as employment for judges. As would giving Native Americans what they are properly owed.

My problem is that I cannot see the leap from not feeling individually responsibility to one of group responsibility. In my warped mind that is like saying 1+1 = 4. So, I will have to try to wrap my mind around that new math if I am to agree with your premise.

The other thing that is interesting to me is that you seem interested only in the wrong done to American Indians. What about those in Central and South America? Oh yeah, they were subdued mostly by the Spanish and Portuguese. No foul there, I guess. Or, no chance of squeezing money out of them? One thing I will say for the Spanish and Portuguese, they didn’t make the mistake of putting the Indians on reservations and turning them into wards of the state. They integrated them into their societies and today there are few pure Indians left in those countries. IMO, that was the mistake we made in this country. You call integration the murder of a culture. I call it the norm. Look around the world.

Oh, and should the Hebrews be feeling shame and guilt as a group (not individually of course) for driving the Canaanites out of Canaan? Or what about the Akkadians who were displaced by the Amorites, who were displaced by the Hittittes, who were displaced by the Hurians? Do they not have a place at the table of greivances?

And what of our neighbors to the north? How about the way those Red Coats destroyed the Indians in Canada? No foul there? Or because they have such a vast area of wilderness and have allowed the Indians to live there in the old ways have they been more compassionate and understanding?

As you can see, I have many questions. But then that is the nature of life. So little time, so many questions.

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A. Jay Adler October 8, 2009 at 5:20 am

Jimmy, I don’t wish to play Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai attempting to fend off the encircling foe with his lone saber and a full measure of fierceness, so I’m going to be very selective in any replies. Aren’t you, then, the lucky one? And, of course, I primarily wait on SW”s response (which is not to rush him).

When the money is turned over, who will decide who gets what? Will thoseof us with some
> Indian blood be in line to get what is properly owed us? Will the Tulalip Tribe be in line for
> as big a share as the Siha Sapa? If not, why not? What about those who have left the
> reservation and integrated into the white man’s culture like MOM? Will this be decided in
> the white man’s courts or in tribal councils? If the Sioux take possession of the Black Hills,
> who will decide which Sioux get to live there? Will Sioux who have left the reservation be
> allowed to take up possession of some part of the land? The questions seem endless and the
> litigation the same.

This argument I neologize as the Fallacy of Imperfection. There is no perfect justice; therefore there is no justice. There is no perfect democracy; therefore there is no such thing as democracy. There is no perfect objectivity or truth; therefore, there is no objectivity or truth. There is no perfect (in your presentation: easy, uncomplicated, complete) solution; therefore there is no solution, so consideration of the matter is pointless. This is, actually, quite a post-modernist stance – the one that has been so wildly, without any foundation (and contradictorily, since I am also, as a liberal, called “absolutist”) attributed to me. It is also a variation on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, which precludes motion (or in your argument, progress on a problem) because of the infinite divisibility of space. However, most mathematicians consider the paradoxes of Zeno resolved, and you and I walked across the room this morning. If there is a desire to address a problem (which first need be acknowledged) solutions can be offered.

> You will undoubtedly not find this amusing,

I have a very active, even happily (you’ll be glad to hear) “politically incorrect” sense of humor.

My problem is that I cannot see the leap from not feeling individually responsibility to one
> of group responsibility.

But you are working from the wrong direction. Individual responsibility, by my argument, in a matter like this, emerges from (not just any group) national responsibility. And it is not activated (other than if one feels it) on an individual level, but a collective, national level. There are many manifestations of this in law and international relations, in the treatment of corporations and obligations among nations. I make a fuller statement of my position of this in the second half of Historical Identity and Cultural Responsibility.

The other thing that is interesting to me is that you seem interested only in the wrong done
> to American Indians. What about those in Central and South America? Oh yeah, they were
> subdued mostly by the Spanish and Portuguese. No foul there, I guess. Or, no chance of
> squeezing money out of them?

Au contraire. I am interested in the entire issue of indigenous peoples, and “Aboriginal Sin” clearly puts our national situation in an international context. I am an American citizen. I am focusing my work on the situation in my own country.

One thing I will say for the Spanish and Portuguese, they
> didn’t make the mistake of putting the Indians on reservations and turning them into wards
> of the state. They integrated them into their societies and today there are few pure Indians
> left in those countries. IMO, that was the mistake we made in this country. You call
> integration the murder of a culture. I call it the norm. Look around the world.

As you correctly anticipate, yes, there is no doubt that the most effective way to deal with a problematic minority culture, including one you have conquered, is totally to annihilate it, physically or culturally. If you are content with that argument, which has so much historic resonance, even in the past century, I have no response, and we have identified one of those core differences that The Open Mind is intended, in part, to reveal.

However, I need to point out that you are, simply, factually incorrect. By some measures, the indigenous population of Peru, for instance, (not counting Mestizo) is 45%. In Guatemala it is about 40%. In Bolivia it is about 55%,with about 30% Mestizo, and only 16% of Caucasian or other descent. If you travel to these countries, visual indicators do not contradict.

>I call it the norm. Look around the world.

You continue to conflate description and prescription: descriptive historical analysis and policy prescription. In so doing, you continue to make the “might makes right” argument, and I again refer you to Plato. And we have again identified a core difference.

Oh, and should the Hebrews be feeling shame and guilt as a group (not individually of
> course) for driving the Canaanites out of Canaan? Or what about the Akkadians who were
> displaced by the Amorites, who were displaced by the Hittittes, who were displaced by the
> Hurians? Do they not have a place at the table of greivances?

Your reductio ad absurdam argument ignores the questions about distinctions that I addressed to SW, and should take note of this point from Historical Identity and Cultural Responsibility:

If we have advanced as a species, even as we continue to demonstrate our basest qualities, we might begin by agreeing that part of whatever progress we have made can be demonstrated – as a foundation for believing in the progress – by recognizing and acknowledging the nature of our common human history. Then, we could draw a line between events so far back in time that they have no current consequence in a contemporary society and those that do.

If you’ve met any Canaanites or Hittittes lately, I suppose we’d at least have to talk about it.

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MaxedOutMama October 7, 2009 at 1:47 pm

No, No, No, Geoffrey. I wasn’t referring to your comment above, but to the prior one on SW’s announcement post.

If you take the use of a land, you are grabbing it even though the titular ownership remains in the original lands.

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Geoffrey Britain October 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

“I’ll try to forgive Geoffrey for his theory that if the Indians get wealthy it’s okay to grab their land.”

Whoa MaxedOutMama,

I don’t think it’s ‘okay’ to grab the Indians land as though $ is truly adequate compensation. But at this time in history, it’s really the only viable compensation and, what is done is done. I see no basis for the Sioux’s complaint, as YOU just stated, “The law my Indian ancestors lived under gives you this land by right of conquest.”
The Sioux are engaged in the hypocrisy of selective historical remembrance. It’s still true that if you are comfortable with stealing from me, you can hardly complain if I end up stealing from you.

Again, by the Sioux’s own ‘rules’ that they lived by the following is true: “The Sioux lost ‘their’ land, it WAS stolen from them, just as they stole it from others. End of story.”

Otherwise there’s no rational end to the demands for reparations and national, ‘cultural’ guilt. Eternal finger pointing and division is all that lies upon that path.

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MaxedOutMama October 7, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Jay, I am sorry you took such offense at the comments, but please understand that you appear also to be taking offense at those of Indian heritage talking about their own perceptions of themselves and their relationships to the wider culture of today. There is not an “Indian” culture. Why do you assume that any of us would feel more affinity culturally toward other Indian cultures than to our national culture? The truth is, the Europeans were trying to make peace between warring tribes by the early 1800s, and generally failing.

My own background is Tsalagi. The Chief, my better half, is Meso-American Indian. Both of us are Christians. Neither of us would wish history away, although we obviously believe that some aspects of it are greatly unjust. But the law to which we appeal to plead the injustice, Jay, is a European law, a Judeo-Christian derived law, not the law of our own heritage. The law my Indian ancestors lived under gives you this land by right of conquest. There is considerable irony in this. This is not unique to any people – it appears to be the norm. It is the law we live under now that is appears almost novel and unique in history. Great powers have imposed peace before, but not with these principles. And faultily as they have been lived, the peoples of North America have grown slowly up to fuller understanding and practice of these laws.

Whether you find it palatable or not, the native cultures of America were engaged in endless brutal warfare when the Europeans arrived. Europeans were almost immediately recruited into that warfare. The tactics and practices of the peoples constituted an endless stream of what we would now consider war crimes.

Now I pride myself on my heritage, and I secretly pride myself on being a nation, not a tribe, and to have been a big cut above many tribes. But the objective truth is that we were not that fine a culture morally in our interactions with others, and our own culture improved greatly as the result of European contacts and Christianization.

In no way do I approve of later events – the land grabs, etc. The expulsion from GA was an atrocity. There had only been a couple of incidents, and most of the people who were thrown out were doing nothing against whites. Heck, at least of third of them were breeds. It was just a land grab.

But understand that my people got guns by the later 1600s, became even stronger, and spent quite a few decades raiding other tribes and selling captives for slaves to the Europeans. OK? If it had not been for the smallpox, history might have been quite different. I doubt it would have been better. You would not expect me to grieve over the results of the Civil War, or to be mourning the passing of my ancestral Georgian culture’s fidelity to Jim Crow laws as the consequence of the civil rights movement. Aren’t you being more than a bit hypocritical to expect that I should run around screaming about the nasty Europeans while extolling my lost red paradise?

I agree with Siha Sipa in much he said. Maybe you don’t understand why the native American cultures changed so much, but understand that in some tribes, women were pretty much chattel, that torture was almost the norm, and that the land was mostly lawless. And Indian culture often is very derisive, very competitive, and very … jeering.

You’re writing from a white viewpoint. I do not think you should presume to dictate to others that they share it.

If you want to get an intuitive understanding of why Siha Sipa wrote what he did, read this carefully:
http://omahatribe.unl.edu/etexts/oma.0004/oma.0004.ch-2.html

I hope you can grasp the humor of the earnest white reverend asking for all the names while people gave him the rude name – certainly not the name each group used for themselves.

The best culture did win, and because it did, the Chief and I can be who we are without having to beat up other people. Whether you like this nasty truth or not does not matter to me. I don’t think you truly know much about Indians today. Most of us are amalgamated in the culture, don’t live on the res, and do find the welfare-distorted res cultures to be less than ideal, even while we may feel considerable affinity and loyalty to other aspects of our culture and people. For many Cherokee, this has been true for centuries.

Since Jimmy doesn’t know his own Indian history, let me point out that the last human sacrifice by the Skidi Pawnee occurred in the 1840s. One of their own chiefs began trying to stop it in 1817.

Try not to take this personally, and I’ll try to forgive Geoffrey for his theory that if the Indians get wealthy it’s okay to grab their land.

I hope you will be posting in this series on other topics. May I humbly suggest that perhaps yours is not quite as open as you think it? The worst problem for many Indians today is this endless use of a narrative of passive grievance in order to explain all their own behaviors. A drunk, Jay, is just a drunk. Welfare has done more to exterminate Indians than anything else. Indians are getting back on their feet because they realize this.

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Geoffrey Britain October 7, 2009 at 11:26 am

“The response of your commenters has changed the game. When I wrote my introduction to our Open Mind experiment, I closed with a reference to Native America. It was, I thought, an obligatory – which is not to say unheartfelt – observation. …How could I, if only in passing, not? Never anticipating.”
‘Never anticipating’ that others might disagree with your premises and thus with your conclusions? My but you’re easily offended, categorizing challenges to your premises as “smug stereotypes and condescension’s” and as ‘game changers’ is proof of that.

“the straw man they reassuringly clutch to their chests, to spare them the effort of thinking – on each new occasion, with each new person – anew. With – what shall we call it – an open mind?” Ah, so we lacked a proper appreciation of individual nuance? We assumed certain attitudes about you from observing a commonality among liberals? Has it occurred to you that your ‘affirmative positions’ reveal much about your premises? And that tells us for the most part, ‘where you’re coming from’? That, with a few caveats, much of your website is a paean to PC thought, of the Red Man’s plight?

“Then there was the litany of smug stereotypes and condescensions”
While I didn’t make the comments you refer to here, I can and do assert there to be some truth to them. Might I suggest that rather than cavalierly dismissing them out of hand, you might find value in considering them as honest observations? If nothing else, just in the interests of keeping an open mind?

“we are cultural descendents of those who committed this wrong, and like any people of conscience, we must accept the full legacy of that which we inherit, all that is so great and kind to us and all that is not. The claim, which it seems clear many of your commenters equally reject, is that the sin – like slavery – is a national, a societal, a cultural sin.”
I do not reject the historical fact that the culture of which, to use your term, I am a ‘cultural descendant’, engaged in ‘sin’.

I do reject the framing of the discussion in terms that blatantly portray the Indians as the poor victims and speak not at all of the very long list of atrocities that ‘Native Americans’ visited upon whites.

Many of which, were without provocation. Whites moving on to the land, establishing farms and villages is not justification for the murder, rape and enslavement of whites by Indians. Especially when the Indians had no concept of either private or public ownership of land. It was strictly ‘territorial’ behavior and the Indians had NO moral compunctions against the most horrible of atrocities.

I reject them, not because of a childish; “they did it too” but because framing history in that one sided manner leads to eternal “national, societal, cultural sin”.

I reject intellectual dishonesty that refuses to acknowledge the actual situation, at that time.

I reject the demand that we speak of white sins while refusing to acknowledge the red man’s sins.

Because of all this, I reject your implicit ‘penance’. We did it, so did they, and lets move on already.

“Let’s move on already” not as denial of what happened but because the purpose of ‘forgiveness’, of letting bygones, be bygones…is not to exculpate the sinner of their sins but to allow the victim to get on with their life.

Incessant dwelling upon historical wrongs hurts the ‘sinned against’ not the sinner.

It does no one any good, most of all the ‘descendant as victim’ Native Americans, to dwell on historical wrongs done their ancestors.

“Similarly, several readers attack the straw man of the idealized Native.”
Contrary to what you assert, it is not a ‘straw man’ argument; it is an observation of your obvious motivation. The proof of that assertion is your combining of present and ongoing injustice ($ owed that is not paid) with historical wrongs that conveniently leave out the white side of the story.

Have you read historical accounts of what the Iroquois, Comanche, Apache, etc. did to white settlers? If not, why not? Exactly how is that, an ‘open mind’? If you have done so, how can you discount it, to the degree, as to not even mention it?

I’ll be asking some questions that can clarify thought, and they all have to do with making distinctions, a fundamental aspect of clear thinking.
Yes, distinctions, another word for judgments are a fundamental aspect of clear thinking. Conservatives and some independents have noticed that liberals limit their judgments to the wrongs of white culture and even when it’s pointed out, deny and discount cultural judgment of non-white cultures. That’s known as ‘trying to have it both ways’ and is fundamentally dishonest.

“In the comments there was fairly common talk of American Indians in generality, as if they are a single group. Not to recognize distinction, of course, is to make something disappear. We recognize distinctions in words. To have no word for it is not to think it. If we do not think it, it does not exist. A commenter wrote, “The American Indian was ALL about tribalism. Tribalism, by definition, devalues the ‘other’.” There is certainly no devaluation greater than disappearance. You cannot be more “other” than unnamed.
When one talks about “American Indians” it is generally accepted that we are talking about those tribes that inhabited the geographical boundaries that comprise the US. Recognizing a fundamental commonality among North American Indian tribes is simply stating a fact. ALL Native American groups in North America were organized at the tribal level. That is “not recognizing distinction so as to make something disappear”. A fundamental psychological and sociological tenant of organization at the tribal level is that anyone not of the tribe is of “the other”.

That is a FACT and the American Indian certainly exhibited that ‘tribal distinction’ and more importantly, still does, because they have, in the main, continued to see themselves foremost as ‘Native Americans’ instead of simply as ‘Americans’ first. You cannot otherwise fully assimilate, while you put any designation, any hyphenation, before the category of ‘American’.

I am primarily of Portuguese and French ancestry but foremost and always, I am an American. Partly by birth but far more importantly because I believe in the founding principles and premises put forth in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.

The term “tribal” is problematic. Often, used pejoratively, it is itself a form of “other” creation.”
Au contraire, here you are using semantics to deflect an honest observation. ALL North American Indians were organized at the tribal level and there are distinct psychological and sociological tenants around which tribes are constructed, “the other’ being the most basic of organizational constructs of a tribe.

“Can any European perspective ever be offered that condemns or diminishes other cultures on the basis of the frequency, extent, or mortal effect of their war making?”
Yes, both “Just War” doctrine and Christian principles condemn it. Regardless of Euro-centric society’s abysmal failure to live up to those standards, the ‘principles and premises” remain. Principles and premises of which, Indian tribes universally rejected because they made no sense to them. I.E. a foreign concept.

“Language is a fundamental designator of cultural identity.”
It is also a fundamental designator of division and, when it is generational, a ‘first-language’ among groups living within a larger society, it is a fundamental barrier to assimilation and therefore a fundamental barrier to societal cohesion.

“So we come to the argument your readers made more than once, that displacement of one people by another has been the course of human history. What was the age – the year CE – of civilized majority at which national cultures became ethically responsible for their conduct and it was no longer acceptable to write transgressions off to some pre-moral, pre-responsible age of development?“

It is a FACT that “displacement of one people by another has been the course of human history”.

National cultures demonstrate ethical responsibility for their prior conduct, when they acknowledge the wrongs done by them and, demonstrate their nations determination to not engage in that behavior again. We have done that. No other appropriate form of ‘national penance’ exists.

“This all constructs an ages old theory of justice: might makes right.”
“Might makes right” is not a theory of justice. It is an existential reality when disputes arise between those who embrace it.

In the main, Native American tribes and nations practiced it. They had no concept that mercy and compassion should be demonstrated toward those outside the tribe or group. Again I point out; If you are comfortable with stealing from me, you can hardly complain if I end up stealing from you.

The Sioux lost ‘their’ land, it WAS stolen from them, just as they stole it from others. End of story.

“All we need do is give Native Americans what they are properly owed. (the Individual Indian Money Trust Funds and the Tribal Trust Funds, trusts that have been holding compensation to Native Americans for use of their land since 1887.)”
No problem with that. Yes, that should be done immediately. And that ends it. For all time.

“I have made some minor, cosmetic changes to the reader comments, altering verb tense and particular vocabulary that would be revealing of time period. Anyone is free to make comparisons to see if I have done anything unfair. I wonder if, without checking, you can distinguish them.”
From my perspective you have been entirely unfair, for you equate, by combining as if from the same source, historically factual observations with racist comments.

Please explain the how and why the following observations are FACTUALLY untrue and, if you cannot, you demonstrate your unfairness:

“Indians had no concept of mercy and compassion (outside their tribe). Those concepts were entirely foreign to their culture(s). The proverbial ‘law of the jungle’ was fully operative in their cultures.”

“stealing was the Indian’s standard ‘modus operandi’. You couldn’t do the right thing and buy the land from the Indians in an honest trade for they had no concept of private ownership, nor of tribal ownership beyond that of ‘might makes right’.

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Neil October 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

Mr. Adler, please don’t think ill of me if I ask–so what’s your point?

Much of the “straw men” you complain of from commenters seems to come from attempts to understand your goals. For example, in your post, you claim that nobody should feel any personal guilt over the treatment of Native Americans by our forebears. And yet we must personally “accept the full legacy”, presumably of guilt as well as wealth, from our ancestors. These two statements negate each other.

So, please accept my apologies if I have misunderstood you, but that leads me to suspect that you do have have some specific punishment in mind for (white?) Americans, else why would you be talking of guilt and justice?

Can you really blame people for reacting badly to being accused of a crime (genocide? theft? rape? You weren’t terribly specific what my precise “legacy” should be), and told they must be punished?

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Gloria October 7, 2009 at 8:56 am

No, it wasn’t the Canadian Club that made me say that!

I’m raising a point about this statement you make: “Another, empathetic Canadian-based reader recognized in me and my views the reader’s self of twenty-five years ago. As my views, generally speaking – oh, yes, there has been evolution and alteration – are those of my own self twenty-five years ago, the anecdotal implication that conservative transformation is an evolutionary advancement of age seems properly, still, anecdotal and without argumentative force.”

In fact, I had thought I found a point of commonality between us. That my views have not remained in stasis for the past 25 years is, I think, a good thing. We might disagree as to whether I have evolved or devolved. But it seems to me that much of what you say has to do with identity–personal identity, which may include components that psychologists and sociologists would label as social identity or tribal identity or ethnic identity or national identity. Please note that for Canadians, “tribal” is not a negative word, inasmuch as it is the word that Native peoples themselves use for the units they live in on reserves up here.

You seem to assume that there must be a determinate answer to questions of identity through time; that an identity is determinate over long periods of time; that an identity remains constant over time; that one identity necessarily makes another’s identity into “an Other;” and that sometimes some identities somehow causally repress the identities of certain “Others.” I think that you really have to provide a definition of identity and provide a justification of its being constant over time, especially over historical time.

I think that under a system of laws, Native peoples in North America have a LEGAL identity. Up here in Canada this was acknowledged and entrenched in a variety of treaties where Native peoples were explicitly named, territories ceded to them, monies, current and in the future, guaranteed to them, etc. Very few citizens of either the U.S. or Canada have any serious objections to honouring these treaties, agreements, and relevant legislation. This legal identity remains constant over time, and is defined clearly in the law (via restrictions on who is counted as a “Native” parent, rules of lineage, etc.)

Where there is disagreement is when legal identity is merged with other notions of identity, notions which may not really be relevant and which lead to an inappropriate extension of rights or obligations. It seems to me that you shouldn’t be extending the notion of legal identity to personal identity or ethnic identity or social identity or national identity, all of the latter being constructs drawn from sociology or psychology or other academic disciplines.

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Nightelf October 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

Jay has done us the service of reading our comments posted to Shrinkwrapped and taking time to craft a response. Thank you, Jay, for the opportunity to comment on your blog.

I can’t address his answers to other commenters on SW’s blog, but Jay seems to take exception to my characterizing his opening remarks as ‘guilt-tripping.’ I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply by that that he’s insincere in his opinions. I know he very much believes them, yet at the same time he appears to be using guilt as a weapon to evoke response from his readers.

I quote: “We must do this not because we are personally guilty of the crime against native peoples. None of us lived when the genocide was committed, and in the United States most may not have ancestors who were even on the continent when these acts were took place. But if we are not familial, we are cultural descendents of those who committed this wrong, and like any people of conscience, we must accept the full legacy of that which we inherit, all that is so great and kind to us and all that is not.”

Jay insists that there is no personal ‘individual’ responsibility, but a ‘cultural’ responsibility. But what is that? Cultures are made up of individuals. If individuals aren’t expected to feel guilt about these matters then who does? Jay, in all his writings I have read so far, appears to believe in some kind of mystical collective guilt as he outlines in his essay “Historical Identity and Cultural Responsibility” and further in his essay “The Dominating Mentality of Conquest” which expands on the idea of collective guilt. (He seems obsessed with themes of conquest and domination.) For myself, and apparently other of SW’s regular posters, we just don’t accept this notion of collective guilt. That isn’t to imply that we don’t, as I do, believe in a personal morality which demands we treat human beings with dignity and respect and abhor oppression and slavery. The historical record is clear. We have no desire to deny history. But as others have pointed out, this is the way of the world. The Indians were human too and engaged in as much stealing, deceit, double dealing and torture as the white man. That the white man, his numbers ever increasing, should prevail against a stone-age people is not surprising.

Jay is of course entitled to feel the way he does. He has made the American Indians his special hobby horse. He may even ask us to partake of his concerns. I hope that is all he is doing. I’m just concerned that he doesn’t stop there but wants us to create and support government programs that will spend taxpayer money, create special legislation, and violate constitutional principles of equal treatment under the law, all for the sole purpose of expunging this guilt that he apparently feels. In this way I consider it a con game. It’s like affirmative action is in relation to blacks. Racial preferences treat people unequally, reward passivity, foster animosity between races and do little to help the intended beneficiaries.

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