Tuesday, August 8, 2017

It's a matter of perception and reaction (8/8/2017)

I was watching Morning Joe the other day when Tom Brokaw mentioned how he had been working on a documentary in Wyoming on the Japanese internment during World War II.  It was in this small town, I don’t remember the name, but that does not matter.  He mentioned that during the past elections 70% of the town voted for Trump and now, a half year in, he walked around town interviewing and talking to people, his estimate is that 69% of the inhabitants are still pro-Trump.  When asked why this was, he said that the local people in this town felt that no one in Washington really looked like them, acted like them, spoke like them, or represented them, especially not the Washington elite, but that Trump came the closest.

This reminded me of an article that I wrote in 1994, entitled: Viewpoint: Perception of the Western Rangelands by the Media, Environmentalists, and the Public.  It was published in Rangelands.  It’s not the most scholarly article ever written, and not my best writing (my English was still fairly new), but I meant well.  I was a student of the naturalist literature, in addition to just having finished my Ph.D.  I had read a lot.  Muir, Leopold, and Ehrlich were some of my favorite writers about the western culture; McPhee, Hubbel, and Hoagland touched on it somewhat, Hubbel on living in rural Missouri and McPhee and Hoagland was just a traveler and all out great writer.  I was in love with Powell’s account of his trip down the Colorado River.  

We lived in Gallup, New Mexico at the time where I helped with the management of a public radio station.  We just had the outbreak of the hantavirus and the CDC was all over the place and so were reporters.  Our little volunteer run radio station was hosting reporters from NPR.  In addition, as a family, we also had connections back on the east coast and could live in both worlds and read east coast naturalists (McPhee and Hoagland) who visited the west with their personal biases as well.  So, in 1993 I was invited to give a talk on this intersection of natural resources, literature, and the " East Coast" attitude towards the western culture at a conference in Colorado Springs and this resulted in my article.

In my article I described how I saw that there was this divide between the ranching community and the people on the east coast; and recommended the we tried to bridge that gap.  We could do that be reacting rapidly to any negative information.  Being in radio and in teaching, I suggested that the reaction should be positive and educational.  But then I got job offer in the mid-west and we moved to the east in 1994.

Now twenty-three years later, after moving to the east coast, I am amazed that nothing seems to have changed, or maybe the differences have become even larger.  The ranching side seemed to have dug in even more and it still is "us against them."  I honestly did not think this would ever stay this way.  In the time of the internet and free information flow you would think we would open our mind and gotten closer, but it seems that the divides have deepened (politically, socially, and economically).

I am not a good enough philosopher or political scientist to be able to tell you why that is.  All I know is that when we dig in and close ourselves off, we can just blame them.  Keeping a dialogue going and educating our fellow human beings would be so much better but would take so much effort, and you can get disappointed.  The only thing I hoped was that dialogue and education could prevent it at least for the ranching community.  But, it seems to be a lot like in real life (here I am assuming that that town that Brokaw visited depends for a large part on ranching).  

But it is not unique to the ranching community, or the west.  There are times when I briefly talk about evolution or about climate change in my classes and there are always one or two persons who accuse me of spouting my "liberal bias."  I have learned to get a thick skin and to go on.  As I mentioned before, hopefully it will rub off on one or two in every class I teach.

I agree this picture does not represent the western U.S., so why do I show it here?
Well, this past weekend the family and I did some exploring along the eastern shore of the Northern Neck, the northern peninsula in Virginia.  I took this picture in the Hughlett Point Natural Area Preserve.  My daughter wanted to know what these grasses were doing out there in the water.  Teaching moment: A nice time to talk about sea-level rise; how the peat that is visible between the shore where we are standing and the grass once was also covered with the smooth cord grass, but the sea-level rise killed (drowned) the grass and the exposed peat is now eroding away and eventually so is the shoreline.  It is so important to be educated and to disseminate that information and to teach and educate.That is how we change the world.    

This is the philosophy we all need to have.  Keep that dialogue going, be tolerant of the other side and don't close yourself off and hope your attitude will rub off.  Terms "fake news" shut all chances for a dialogue, all the sudden we don't listen anymore and the divide opens wider.  Let's not be like that frog in that pot with water that is slowly being brought to a boil.  It will notice until it is too late.  We need to try to educate each other even when and if you get push back or accused of things you really not intent to do.  Hopefully something will stick and the opposite sides will come together if only a few inches,  

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