Friday, January 25, 2019


The Rule of Law was a major step towards justice: that is, a written and therefore invariant, same-for-everyone-standard.  But the law is layered and the variance is not gone, just more complicated.  The case of Nathan Phillips is a good example, though it has not been taken to formal courts and is basically in the Court of Public Opinion, which is not only not written, but is as capricious as any king.  

Someone, no doubt a journalist, paid to have one of the web-crawler companies make a list of all Nathan's recorded infractions of military law, drug law, and so on.  Each of these contexts carry their own social and local variations.  What is considered normal one place might be a serious offence in another, for instance, carrying a gun, especially certain kinds.  (Just not done in England.)  I paid for myself to be reported by a web-crawler company and found it lacking.  It doesn't include the public statistics of Canada so has nothing about my two years of service as clergy in Saskatoon.  It assumed that my neighbors would be sources for journalists to interview, but I mostly lived in city apartments where we knew nothing about each other.

If Nathan grew up on a reservation, he was literally under a different system of law, different rules.  This version of the Rule of Law was much influenced by the idea that Indians not quite human.  Ways to be overruled by whites were written in.  No matter what the leaders say or do, they are always second guessed by someone back in Washington, D.C.  Anyway, reservations and tribe recognitions were set up over centuries and each situation was unique in its assumptions.

But the biggest problem has been the Lakoff/Johnson metaphorical content of being indigenous, which is internally contradictory.  On the one hand the People are demonized as savages and on the other hand they are considered noble people of the land, better than any European because closer to the primal innocent beginnings of humans.  Original Sin is considered European.  This is partly how religion keeps getting into it.

Ask those Hebrew Israelites who are combining the anti-stigma movement about being African and about being Jewish.  Their book-based accusations twist the religious laws into a new stigma, "not agreeing with our interpretation."  Their epithets were the most inflammatory they could think of.  They were the most aggressive people in the situation but I'm not sure their PR is working.

Religion is always mixed with the law, but that doesn't mean that we can't rise about the paternalistic concept of God as a big judge in the sky, even though the name is everywhere in early democratic thinking as a source and justification.  One cannot put the Republican party in the place of God or claim it has special entitlement because it pushes a 19th century agenda that was once mainstream.  But I confess that the UUA tends to think it overlaps with the Democrats.  We need a new party that doesn't use old assumptions.

Also, I'm not comfortable with the "Rhetoric of Rights" that Sandmann used, which takes off from the Bill of Rights in the Constitution and ends up with some Incel mutant who says he has a right to sex with an appealing woman.  The idea is prevalent that a gestating fetus has a right to life, but a three-year-old living child doesn't have a right to what makes life meaningful, like parents.  Or not being kept in a cold cage.

The country as a whole has not understood that law in its layers is very much infiltrated by the idea of poverty.  Poverty is like being on a reservation, being considered not quite human.  It is believed by some that human people are always successes.  It's the definition.  People who don't live with poverty never realize that it is necessarily entwined with addiction, violence, and lack of education.  This is how they are kept in poverty.  It's also how they survive.

I personally came to the rez to teach and now see that public schools in America are based on the German obsession with order, data, and technology so that students are only grades, test results, and sports teams.  Everything is aimed at a Ph.D. -- or else fixing diesel trucks to move goods.  If poverty corrupts the bottom of the education system, the top is corroded by over-respect for big name schools, now invaded by techno-corporations.  If a Native American manages to get a degree from Harvard (not so hard, as the institution gets points from romantic rich people for doing it) he or she is guaranteed positive attention and possibly a government job.  In a media story about indigenous people, the thoughts of a white person about them will be given priority over their own indigenous experience, though it is the indigenous experience that is the source of any white speculations.  Remember this as you read -- I'm white.

For instance, I didn't know that Nathan was singing the American Indian Movement song.  I know nothing about why it is good to be a combat veteran in Vietnam as opposed to bad being a refrigerator technician in the Army during that period of history.  Why would the Army send our best and brightest to be possibly killed?  That said, I'm glad Mueller survived to help save his own country at home.  Doesn't it mean something that despite infractions, Nathan was taken back into service?

Sandmann is living in a time with no draft, but that might not persist.  At the least, he'll need to register with the government.  The laws for the defense of this country are being reconsidered and he may at least have to serve some time doing civic service.  If he has bone spurs, they can probably find him a sitdown job or he could be a refrigeration technician.  His religion is never mentioned.  He seems to think that so long as he never touches anyone or says anything, but only blocks progress, he's within the law.  But as soon as cops arrive, everyone scatters, including him.

Curiously, Sandmann is at an age when families often throw their sons out for making trouble.  (Very few tribal people do this, but their families are so big that someone will make room.)  Bad publicity for rich and possibly divorced parents is trouble worse than alcoholism or rape, which won't keep them off the Supreme Court.  A wide population of young unwanted boys in this country would normally be taken into the army.  Now some are challenged to find enough to eat, even the ones from rich households.

Nathan is a survivor.  He understands.

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