Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Not Crushing the Crazies

One of the nice things about not having any kind of TV reception is that one misses out on the madness-of-the-moment kind of news stories that manage to eat up so much time in the twenty four hour news cycle. Thus, it wasn't until a couple days ago when a couple of the people in my news feed started going on-and-on about this Clive Bundy character and the stand-off that took place between his supporters and the Bureau of Land Management that I went and read up a bit about the whole thing.

The story itself appears to be one of these classic local versus national kind of conflicts. On the one hand we have local ranchers who have a way of life built around grazing cattle in this area. Bundy's family has apparently been grazing cattle on the land in question for the last 140 years, although they've never owned it. Twenty years ago, the Fed (who own the land in question) revoked or bought back grazing permits for the land because they wanted to keep cattle out of the habitat of a desert tortoise. Bundy and several other locals kept grazing their cattle there anyway, and things have been gradually escalating ever since.

It all frankly sounds pretty crazy to me. But then, you'd have to be just a bit crazy to be determined to make your living by grazing cattle in virtual desert. People who are sane by our modern societies standards go get office jobs and live in suburbs. We hear about tortoises on nature specials and see desert when we go hiking. And as someone who has lived in many houses and now resides more than a thousand miles from where I was born, the passion that someone might have about a way of life and area of land that one's family has been connected to for 140 years is pretty much impossible for me to imagine.

Earlier this month, the BLM decided to mount a million dollar operation to confiscate Bundy's trespassing cattle and sell them at auction. Bundy made a huge stink in the media that went national, and supporters came out of the woodwork to try to help him block the feds. The supporters were mostly of the anti-government crank type -- some of them members of "militias" and such. These aren't likable people, and Bundy himself has given some interviews that make it clear he's got some pretty loathesome views on issues such as race.

One of the things that has struck me is that the opinion pieces which originally brought the whole thing to my attention seem to fall into two camps. Sympathetic pieces described Bundy and his supporters as patriots holding off a tyrannical government which was out to crush people's occupations to help a reptile that probably didn't need helping. Those on the other side of the political spectrum have instead spilled a great deal of digital ink making it clear that Bundy and his supporters are not likable people.

It strikes me that both of these miss the point that it's not necessarily a good idea to crush people just because they're not likable. Who remembers this point is generally a matter of partisanship. Those of the left are often willing to call attention to the increasing militarization of police forces, and the left was similarly willing to be very protective of the rights of the Occupy movements -- despite the fact that by any reasonable societal yardstick the Occupy camps were pretty heavily populated by not-very-likable crazies. On the flip side, it was the political right which was willing to notice under the Clinton administration when confrontations between the federal government and crazy and unlikable people resulted in massively disproportionate violence in cases sush the Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidians.

While the partisan trappings of these fracases tend to shed far more heat than light, and crazy and unlikable people (especially from the other side of the political spectrum) are... well, crazy and unlikable, it's important to remember that if we value liberty and decency the fact that people are kind of crazy and unlikable is not sufficient justification for society to take away their livelihood or their lives.


BenK said...

This is precisely why we need strong local control. Whether it is the Roundheads or the Inquisition, the instinct is to get into the community affairs of people with whom we have no practical relationship. In fact, if they are left alone to determine the laws of their own local communities, it becomes clear who is functionally crazy. There are some who will eke out a living from a desert for 140 years and those whose economic and social systems will collapse within a generation in the lushest environments. As unfortunate as it may be, the best policy is to let them try - and at a higher metalevel, to provide some degree of defense or assurance to those fleeing the wreckage and perhaps the neighboring communities.

It's group selection, I know, which is weaker than individual selection as a whole, but hopefully those silly theoretical wars are behind us.

Michael said...

A lot of this wouldn't be an issue if the federal government would sell or cede to the states the 80% or so of land it owns in the West. I'm pretty sure BLM+NPS are not interested in the best or most efficient use of the land they own.

This really should not be a federal issue, controlled by some bureaucrat in Virginia, but rather something dealt with by the State of Nevada, or better yet, private landholders.

Foxfier said...

But then, you'd have to be just a bit crazy to be determined to make your living by grazing cattle in virtual desert.

It's actually quite good for it, especially if there's decent management of the "wild" horses. Uncontrolled horses will tear up the forage really badly, while cows tend to trim. I grew up in similar areas near Modoc.

It only becomes crazy if your water rights "disappear." Family friend down in that area says there's a lot of shady stuff-- even more so than the attempt to violate federal law by confiscating the cows and shipping them across state lines for auction. (The paperwork to prove they don't have anything nasty is astronomical.)


It strikes me that both of these miss the point that it's not necessarily a good idea to crush people just because they're not likable.

From facebook, rough paraphrase of a response to quotes: "Did he say anything that made it OK to kill him and take his stuff? No? Don't care."