Identity Politics and Political CorrectnessPolitics / US Politics Dec 08, 2012 - 07:19 AM GMT
L: Doug, I hear that a friend of yours, Indian activist Russell Means, has passed away. He was an unusual and interesting character. Are you up to talking about it?
Doug: Yes. You know, I've gotten into the habit of doing obituaries in recent years in The Casey Report – but generally of people I don't like. I know that's considered improper, because you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but –
L: It's Totally Incorrect.
Doug: [Laughs] Totally. But that's perhaps the best reason to do it. I hate to see sepulchers whitened, especially when their contents are morally rotten. But Russell, whom I got to know to some degree, is worthy of praise. We hung out together a couple of weekends in past years.
L: I caught that Heart of Darkness reference. We really should talk about books again, with a broader context than our conversation on speculative fiction. We've had requests.
Doug: I'd like that – maybe next week. Anyway, I have a lot of respect for Russell. So I think I can say what I really think and not violate accepted mores.
L: Okay. Perhaps we should start with who he was and how you came to know him?
Doug: Sure. Russell rose to fame because he was involved in what's sometimes called the Second Battle of Wounded Knee, back in 1973. About 200 Oglala Lakota occupied the town of Wounded Knee for over two months, and were surrounded by a small army of federal marshals and FBI agents, buttressed by a bunch of armored personnel carriers. There was a lot of shooting, resulting in several deaths. If it had happened today, it might have wound up like Waco. Means and others were put on trial, but the charges were dropped on based on prosecutorial misconduct. But Russell was very involved, and you can bet that he was on the line, pulling the trigger. He was that kind of guy. A couple of years later two FBI agents were killed there, and Leonard Peltier – a friend of Russell's – was found guilty. That became a cause célèbre as well, since there's some real question of whether he did it. He's still in jail.
I'm on the side of the Indians. Sure, they may have broken some laws, but most laws today are artificial, unnecessary, and corrupt constructs. They're very unlikely to be changed from within the system. And, apart from that, the Indians are a special case in many ways.
Russell was an outspoken sort of guy and a good self-promoter. So, subsequent to Wounded Knee II, he got into the movie business. As an actor he may be best known for playing Chingachgook in The Last of the Mohicans. He also had a role in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and a voice appearance in Disney's Pocahontas. He was actually a good actor, I thought. Maybe that's because he basically played himself: a grizzled old Indian. He was a character actor: someone with a great persona that people just like to watch. There's nothing wrong with that – John Wayne was famous for doing the same thing, as was Steve McQueen.
L: Really? I had no idea… I knew of him as a libertarian activist – somehow, it never came up that he was in the movies.
Doug: He was an activist, that's for sure. That's what brought him to the Eris Society meetings I hosted for 30 years, where I met him. Russell was always interesting company, but not always easy to get along with. He had what you might call an evenly balanced personality – a chip on both his shoulders. He seemed to be constantly looking for a confrontation, if not an actual fight. And he demanded to be treated with respect. I had no problem with that, because I found him worthy of respect.
L: A shining example?
Doug: He had strong points. He was definitely a guy you'd like at your side when the time came to fix bayonets. But like all of us, he had faults. The thing about Russell is that he was what I'd call a professional Indian. And I mean that with all due respect. I just think that he made too big a deal out of being part of his people. We're all individuals, and we should be judged on our own achievements and faults, not those of whatever groups we belong to. The same goes for professional Irishmen, professional Jews, professional blacks, or what have you. Your ethnicity and racial background is definitely part of who you are, but it shouldn't take over your personality. Making an accident of birth the centerpiece of your life makes no sense to me; I view it as a psychological failing. But it's a common enough error, and one that's encouraged by today's politically correct society. Russell certainly wasn't the only one to make it, nor the worst.
L: It seems to have worked for him. If only for the movie roles, he must have made a lot of money almost literally by being a professional Indian.
Doug: True enough. There is, however, a different sort of professional Indian that Russell despised. One of his favorite phrases for such people was: "hang around the fort Indians." [Chuckles] I thought that was a great description.
L: Sorry – what does that mean?
Doug: Welfare Indians and Indians turned white – hanging around the fort, making supplications to their conquerors, seeking to game the system and gain advantage from the treaties and deals with the US, rather than living on their own terms. Like so many things in the political world, it's perverse. The US government basically stole most of the Indians' lands and destroyed their way of life. It broke absolutely every treaty it made with them. Then it turned them into welfare junkies as compensation. Some compensation…
L: It has seemed to me that many Indians, or First Nations peoples, as they call them in Canada, are caught on the horns of a real dilemma. On one hand, they want to adhere to their traditional ways. Fair enough. But on the other, their traditional ways are a Stone-Age culture with no modern medicine and absolutely no way to fight a modern aggressor. To live like that, they would have to trust in the benevolence of the more powerful cultures around them – that's clearly no good. But they can't attain technological, economic, and perhaps even military parity with the Western culture that surrounds them while hunting and fishing.
Doug: Yes, they've had a tough break. They can't just exist as a living anthropological exhibit. It seems to me the best solution would have been for the tribes to maintain their own independent countries. At that point, individuals could take what they wanted from the Europeans' culture or become totally part of it. But throughout history, cultures with superior technologies or numbers have always crushed their competitors. It's bad karma – with all that implies – but that seems to be how people are wired.
There is, however, mounting evidence that there were actually many more Indians when the Europeans arrived in the Americas than was previously believed. I remember learning in history classes that North America had a native population of maybe a couple million, max. Their hunter-gatherer civilization was not thought to be able to feed more than that. New research is coming out that suggests that there were easily ten times as many natives, maybe even more. The Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, for example, is now thought to have been the site of a city larger than London in 1250 AD.
But their populations were wiped out and their civilizations destroyed – not with bullets, but with smallpox and other Old World diseases. The same thing allowed Cortez to subdue a much larger Aztec population in Mexico, and Pizarro the Incas in South America. The Indians had no immunological defense against such diseases at all, and 95 percent of the population died. There's very interesting archeological work proceeding on this front, and I suspect we'll know much more in just a few years.
L: I've heard they're finding Mayan cities no one knew about with satellite imaging now, looking for circles of altered vegetation that still surround old Mayan population centers even now, centuries later. This is interesting… But back to Russell Means. I never met him, and I wish I had. I always wanted to ask him what it was about him, what experiences he might have had, that enabled him to grasp the basics of libertarian thinking, and why so few other native leaders have done the same. Do you know?
Doug: Well, I'd say that Russell was a gut libertarian. He wasn't good at articulating economic theory, but he was by nature a strong individualist. Actually, I'd say he was pretty conflicted. On one hand he was a staunch individualist, but on the other, he would never admit to the fact that he was allowing himself to be defined by his ethnic group. Maybe this is more evidence in favor of a premise I've long suspected is true: libertarianism is actually a genetic mutation.
L: It certainly feels that way. Frequently.
Doug: It does, doesn't it? Even when people recognize and intellectually understand the philosophy of personal freedom and responsibility, most just can't integrate it into themselves emotionally. And others simply refuse to grasp it intellectually. I'm afraid libertarianism is fated to appeal to only a small minority.
L: Marshall Fritz used to administer Myers-Briggs tests to people at Advocates for Self-Government meetings. I remember him saying that 90% of the time, they'd come up INTJ. And I don't think people are distributed evenly among the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types – INTJs are rare, so 90% is quite extraordinary.
Doug: David Galland is a fan of Myers-Briggs tests. He had me take it once, but I don't remember what it said I was… Do you know what you are?
L: Well, I object to the idea that human beings all come in one of 16 personality types, but as a sort of shorthand, the system is useful. I tested as an INTJ – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging – though I was borderline between introverted and extroverted.
Many people think I'm extroverted, because they see me on stage, teaching, lecturing, or on TV. I'm not afraid of such performances, but I find them draining. I think real extroverts get a charge out of that sort of attention. I'm usually happier alone with a good book, or with my close friends and loved ones.
Doug: That sounds like me too – I totally agree with you, and frequently prefer my own company. I've often thought that if I were the last person left alive on the planet, I'd probably get along just fine. But that's getting way off topic.
L: Yes. It's too late now, but for years I've had a fond fantasy that Russell Means would persuade some band or tribe somewhere to exercise the sovereign independence they truly and legally have, and tell the US government to go get stuffed. The US can keep its welfare checks and other "help." Instead, once acting independently, they could set up a free-trade zone and invite businesses to lease land for a dollar for 99 years – sort of like the original Hong Kong setup – and levy no taxes. Businesses would gladly move to South Dakota – or wherever – to enjoy a real tax haven without having to leave the continental US. Even without the taxes, the businesses would create countless jobs and benefits for the tribes –work with dignity. If there were also fewer regulations than in the US, technological progress and innovation could happen faster. Instead of being romanticized welfare projects, such reservations could become shining beacons of liberty, prosperity, and progress…
I'm sure he must have tried – a pity the idea never caught on.
Doug: Absolutely. It worked for China; it should work even better for Indians, who are not burdened with the legacies of Maoism. But I guess INTJs are just as rare among American Indians as among Americans of European descent. Perhaps even more so.
Worse, native culture has been all but destroyed, not just by the wars and decimation of their population, but by the welfare mentality foisted upon natives by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The BIA since its founding has been the most notoriously corrupt of all government agencies, which is saying something. It still spends billions per year, largely keeping Indians dependent and on their reservations – hanging around the fort, as Russell said. The BIA is one agency that should be abolished tomorrow morning, and then a thorough criminal investigation launched for malfeasance and misfeasance among both its current and retired employees. It's time Indians controlled the property they own and are stopped being treated like wayward children.
But to answer your question, going back to something I said earlier, as much as I respected Russell, his greatest failing may have been that he did not educate himself deeply on the philosophical matters that concerned him. He never read enough of the classics and current literature to gain a thorough theoretical understanding to back his gut libertarianism. He could argue from the heart, but not as effectively from the head – he was quite capable of it, very intelligent, but he just didn't bother. This may be why, as passionate and impressive as he was, he couldn't talk any of the tribes into doing as you say.
L: Reminds me of the king telling Mozart in Amadeus: "Herr Mozart, you are passionate, but you do not persuade."
Doug: [Laughs] Exactly.
The last thing Russell got involved in some was project in the Dakotas – I wrote about it in the International Speculator at the time; it had to do with setting up a free country, just as you described. I meant to get in touch with him about it, but urgent things got in the way of important things. Anyway, he had some health problems at the time, and I didn't think he was the sort of guy who'd want to go out with a bunch of tubes stuck up his nose in a white man's hospital. I thought he might look to pick a fight with the Federales and go out in a blaze of glory. It didn't end up that way, and that may just be the greatest tragedy of Russell's life.
Anyway, he was a stand-up guy, and I'm sorry that he's gone… but nobody gets out of here alive.
L: Okay then. Hm. This doesn't seem to lend itself to any investment insights, but it was interesting.
Doug: Perhaps not. I will point out that Indians have done well opening up casinos on their reservations. They ought to do much, much more. But that's a question of political entrepreneurship as much as economic entrepreneurship.
L: Speaking of Native People at this time of year, I can't help but remember my son Orion's favorite holiday song: Stuck in the Smoke Hole of Our Tipi. It's sung by Shoshoni Elder Oldhands and is pretty politically incorrect
Doug: I'll check out the song. Have a good week.
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