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Make my day, stranger!


Last Edited: October 29, 2005, 3:21 pm


I don’t know when we began giving power to strangers. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. Maybe we watched too many Westerns during our formative years, learned from those steely eyed men in saloons that what strangers think about us is worth a gunfight.

Nowadays the extreme version happens in city traffic. Someone shoots someone else a bird. Next step is an exchange of gunfire.

Here’s how the scenario runs:

Some complete stranger pronounces a bias we don't share.

Our thought response:

“This offends me.”

That thought process is driven by a deeper one:

“I want to be offended. I give this stranger the power to offend me. I assign enough value to what this stranger says, or believes, to allow it to trigger a negative emotional path within me. What this stranger says or believes matters.”

We know better.

Strangers cut too wide a swath in their traits to have any real value. They span the breadth of potential human biases. But even knowing this we give them the power to ruin a moment.

I say this is a recent phenomenon because humans of the past behaved differently. Our forefathers didn’t care what Brits thought about us because they recognized that Brits live within an entirely different set of interests.

Even today a Zuni doesn’t care what a Navajo thinks about anything because from the perspective of a Zuni, Navajos don’t have anything valid to contribute to any meaningful discussion. Navajos live in a different reality from Zunis.

Both Navajos and Zunis choose to allow themselves to be offended by the opinions of Anglos and Hispanics, but there’s a reason. They’ve found taking offense is a means of gaining power over those groups.

But neither a Zuni, nor a Navajo would bother being offended by the thoughts and words of the other because to each there’s nothing the other might think that carries the weight of validity.

Not long ago the same was true of people almost everywhere. The people in the town where I was reared cared about the opinions of people within that town, but they couldn’t have cared less what the people in Clovis, twenty miles away thought. It was generally understood that Clovis people were stupid and might think and say anything.

Today we care what everyone thinks about almost everything. We pretend to believe what they think carries value, but we know better. We just like the feel of being offended..

Make my day, Stranger! I'm handing you the power to offend me.

This leaves me cold.

Human opinion hasn’t held up well under scrutiny. It’s worth about what it costs. Mine aren’t that reliable and I haven’t found those of others to be any better.



Entry #396


Comment by shalini - October 30, 2005, 12:00 am
Jack Hi!!
Educate me please....I've read this article and another one of the LP comments about a couple of weeks ago regarding the Indian reservations....just for my knowledge, what is the scene with the reserves...their attitudes vis a` vis the others in life, work etc...are they really by and large a regressive and lazy lot taking advantage of their special status or is it that they have not been able to get their fair share of opportunities in life...I know this is not about your article but I have been meaning to ask you for some time.
Comment by Rip Snorter - October 30, 2005, 1:50 am
Hi shalini:
Thanks for the comment.
The tribes are disfranchised Americans for the most part. There's never been normalization of relations with them, so they live in a sort of limbo, mostly. The nomadic plains tribes lost their culture over a hundred years ago and most pueblo tribes far earlier than that. Only a few isolated tribes such as the Hopi and Zuni have maintained any of their original culture, though some rudiments of the religions survive elsewhere, but dying fast. Most tribes have lost their language.

Tribal members tend to die early from diabedes, alcohol, suicide. A mescalero friend told me a few years ago there was no one on the Rez older than 70. So the tribal traditions are generally gone insofar as those passed on generation to generation.

Most tribes do take advantage of their special status when they're able, as do most other Americans when they have a special status. But the special status is definitely a mixed blessing. Tribal members are protected from themselves by a maternal tribal government, a paternal Bureau of Indian Affairs, and in some tribes, such as the Navajo, by severe social restraints on the Rez. They can't own the property they live on, they're in danger of losing their tribal census number if they leave the Rez to live, which threatens their health care services through the US Public Health Services, so they live in a strange reality.

It ain't a good life. NA males rarely live to die of the usual clinical death by old age. They suicide, die of alcolism, alcohol related automobile accidents and other causes one finds where disfranchised people are in the majority.

Fact is, NAs aren't in a position to make most of the mistakes the rest of us make in our day-to-day lives.... getting bad loans, too much credit card debt, buying a lousy house in a bad neighborhood, that sort of thing, so a lot of them make another kind of mistake ... one many of us make, too, but it's become something of a culture with them.

I'd say it's unfair to suggest NAs are lazier than anyone else. Some are hard working, some aren't.

NAs haven't been robbed of anything, to my way of thinking, except the privilege of having responsibility for their own lives. Of having to make choices and decisions. Of being able to privately own the house they live in and the land it sits on, sell it, keep it, own it.

They get better health care than most Americans without having to pay for it. They get a monthly check, many of them, just for being a tribal member.

But the situation was bad enough before the tribal sovereignty issue reared its head. There might once have been hope for them to become regular citizens of this country. Now there's too much vested interest to ever allow it to happen.

Too bad. Tough gig I wouldn't wish on anyone.

Comment by shalini - October 30, 2005, 3:36 am
Jack thanx....
Comment by Rip Snorter - October 30, 2005, 7:46 am
Those are just my own personal opinions as a close outside observer. You'll find a lot of differing opinions about all of it. Most whites in the Gallup and Farmington areas would agree with your first statement and would disagree with me, though a few take a more romantic view, or humanitarian views, and would disagree with me from those positions. The NAs would disagree from positions of their own.

My answer to you is worth about the price of the electrons required to keep it on the screen.

Comment by shalini - October 30, 2005, 11:32 am
Comment by Rip Snorter - October 30, 2005, 11:38 am
I assumed your question applied to actual Native Americans, as opposed to the legions of Americans who have a bit of NA in their ancestry and find it romantic or fashionable to call themselves Indians. It's a popular trait here, since almost all of us had a Cherokee or whatnot back there somewhere for a great-grandmother. I know a lot of folks who indulge in this, but I can tell you the folks on the Rez hold nothing but scorn for them. There's been a lot of fighting over the years, even laws passed concerning what a person has to do to officially call himself an NA for the purposes of marketing crafts, etc.

Strange doings.

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