Monday, December 09, 2013



Brian Kahn, who sent back the above in response to my post of 12/4/13, has generously sent me a copy of his book. I’ve spent the day reading it.  Two stories anchor my response.

When Bob Scriver was little, he took his .22 out onto the prairie around Browning to hunt gophers.  The cops pulled him in and took him before the judge.  The judge was going to fine him, but Bob was defiant and said that the Constitution of the United States guaranteed him the right to bear arms.  He persuaded the judge to wait while he went to get his civics text with the Constitution in it.  When he returned and pointed out the Bill of Rights, the judge scoffed,  “Oh, that’s an old version.”

There’s another story.  When Bob was little and taking his .22 out onto the prairie with his dog (what we would now call a pit bull) for a companion, he met a town drunk with a pack of curs.  When Bob’s dog got in front of Bob to protect him, the pack ripped into the defending dog.  Bob raised his .22 to kill the dogs, but the drunk ripped his gun away and slammed the stock into his temple, knocking him unconscious.  The boy’s bloody dog stood over him while the drunk and the his mongrels went on.  A town father, the original Sherburne (not the one sometimes vilified), found the boy and took him home.  I don’t know what happened after that.

Bob used to say,  “People can do whatever other people let them do.”  Resources are limited these days (or so we think) so we pass laws, even hire enforcers, but that’s about the end of it.  No one has time to investigate what happens after that.  We don’t go check with our civics textbooks and, in fact, many schools don’t teach civics now because it is not a salable skill. 

Brian Kahn’s book, which one reviewer described as “well-written and well-intentioned,” strikes me as written by a man arguing with that old judge, not a man confronting a violent drunken bully.  In his role as an interviewer and environmentalist, Kahn can drive somewhere with a guy like Marc Racicot, give and take with Ted Turner, and otherwise deal with these “boss” people as equals. He’s not on-foot on the prairie.  

My personal American roots draw sustenance from the Transcendentalists, not the Founders of the country.  I admire Walt Whitman more than George Washington, which is not to “dis” Washington. I feel rather indulgent of Jefferson who, when his wife died, took her half-sister into his bed though the legal bond was slavery rather than marriage.  I like Thoreau and find Emerson exasperating.  I think Louisa May Alcott is a better role model, to say nothing of Margaret Fuller.  I don’t know what Kahn thinks of these Concord folks.  But they were like the Internet -- never figured out how to make money, never replaced the precursor government models that, like network television, had a grip on the bank through economic and political ties.  Perhaps the value of the Transcentalists was as a bridge to something in the future, like now, when we are in the midst of a huge paradigm shift.  They understood radical connection among all things as well as dynamic process.

Essential economic sanity.”  Can it come out of democracy?  Even regulated democracy?  Even near-socialism?  The biggest weakness of Kahn’s book is that it is merely national -- it does not deal with a planet full of jungle and desert, miserable hordes of displaced people reduced to animalhood, even inside the borders of democracies, even inside the jails -- esp. inside the jails -- esp. the youngsters.  It comes off as naive.  The reality is that nations are yesterday.

Essential.”  I should go look for a book I have somewhere that takes a Jared Diamond approach to economics, which is to say ecological, which at its most irreducible is the interaction between the surface of the planet and the energy of the sun.  Like my conservative California Christian cousin, Kahn is evidently not willing to get that basic.  Does he think that if New Guinea accepted the US Constitution, everything there would improve and no one would be reduced to eating sago mush again?  My cousin does.

Kahn’s book clearly calls for founding principles of this nation and defends them well.  “NEW, CLEAR, GLOBAL VOICE”?  I don’t hear it.  I’m looking for a post-democracy pattern strong enough to confront international corporations that seem to have no accountable responsible heads.  The ones that make Gates and Turner look like small fry.  These days they are not likely to be white -- maybe not even European or American.  They care nothing about our little tin god-hoarders, who think He has no other people before them.

In the Sixties Bob Scriver was a judge himself.  I acted as informal bailiff, with the help of the officers, not in a courtroom but just where ever we happened to be -- maybe in the shop, maybe in the backyard, maybe in the parking lot. Always men, always alcoholic, helpless, impoverished, well-known, sometimes likable, usually old.  The law hardly touched them.  Jail meant shelter and a meal.  Some, when sober, were pretty good helpers -- Bob paid them $1 an hour, same as me.  They were more skilled than I was.  They voted for him whenever there was an election, wrote in his name for years after he retired.  They died. They didn’t much kill each other -- that was the young drunks.  They didn’t worry about the right to bear arms because most couldn’t couldn’t afford guns.

If you mean “essential,” don’t these men have to be included?  Everyone on a rez knows that there is a mainstream and then there are many understreams, economies of secrets, of favors, of genetics -- a sprawling, shifting gray area governed only by the realities of practical interactions, not theories, not elections.  It’s the virtual “place” where people do what they can get away with, unacknowledged, unknown, and yet with impact on that mainstream, sending methane bubbles up to the daylight. In truth the whole planet is like that.  Always the poor and the suffering -- they are the compost, the muck, the decomposed.  The Le Brea Tar Pits where the CEO’s will die.  In the end it’s not money or even power -- it is the fitness for tomorrow’s world.  Humans in toto may not qualify.  Money is only one kind of economics.

Here’s another story.  One summer day I was walking home along boundary street when a .22 bullet whizzed past my head.  It was kids shooting gophers on the campground next to town.  They were innocent but ignorant -- didn’t realize how far their bullets could travel.  In shock, I told Bob.  “Get in the pickup,” he said, all sunburned, sweaty and hairy from working outdoors.  We drove to the campground, I identified the boys, Bob grabbed their .22 and bent the barrel into a U.  I didn’t know you could do that.  Then we left.  It was the end of the story.  People will do whatever they can do until someone stops them.

Brian wrote in the front of the book he sent me, "for Mary with respect and affection."  I said that since he didn't know me, this came off sarcastic or patronizing.  (I very occasionally comment on his radio show.  I don't think he has read my blogs or my books. I have never met him in person.)  He said if I thought that, I should send the book back.  I did.

1 comment:

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