Essay for critique: Our Children, Their Children, and the Question Dances With Wolves Couldn't Answer.
Posted: Sun Oct 29, 2017 1:55 pm
I thought I'd post a couple of my old essays, and see if anyone wanted to offer any critique of my writing.
Our Children, Their Children, and the Question Dances With Wolves Couldn't Answer.
In the iconic Western movie Dances With Wolves, Kevin Costner plays a Civil War officer who heads out West after being wounded. Being on his own at a Western post, he eventually befriends some Indians. They call him Dances With Wolves. Over time he becomes more one of them, and less connected to his white American roots. The Indian leader who befriends him, and tries to learn if more white men are coming.
Taken from the script:
DANCES WITH WOLVES
You have asked me many times about
the white people... you always ask
how many more are coming .
Dances With Wolves looks at his friend and mentor.
DANCES WITH WOLVES
There will be a lot my friend...
more than can be counted.
Help me to know how many.
DANCES WITH WOLVES
Like the stars.
This is what Kicking Bird wanted to know. And it hits him
like a rock.
Kicking Bird bows his head in thought while Dances With
Wolves raises his. He never wanted to say this, he wishes
it wasn't true.
This leaves the critical question unasked: Why are the white men coming?
Not long ago I was traveling in that part of the country, and it made me think. I went to the Little Bighorn Battlefield, the Black Hills, and other places in the area. And what struck me was little value this territory actually had for the white men. Without mechanical irrigation, the whole region is borderline unfarmable. It's just too arid. And by 19th century standards, it simply offered nothing else of economic value. But the white man came, massacred the Indian, and took the land. Forcing the survivors of the Indians onto reservations which were wholly inadequate for them to continue to live as they knew how to live. And condemning descendants of those people to generations of impoverishment from which they have still not recovered.
And for this the white man got? Those who settled the area were among the most impoverished of whites anywhere in the nation. In short, having destroyed multiple tribes and an entire way of life, the white man got essentially nothing in return. So why did they do it? Kicking Bird did not ask the right question, and Dances With Wolves wouldn't have know the answer in any case.
I can't find the book, but as I recall the answer lies in a science fiction novel by Elizabeth Bear. As I recall the story, the setting was a race to launch an interstellar colonization ship between the US and China. And the protagonist was asking her boss what the importance of which was first was. And his answer to paraphrase was 'It's our children or their children. That's what it always comes down to.' And as I traveled though the lands which had essentially no value to anyone but the Indians, but that the whites had destroyed the Indians to take, it struck me as that this was the question that Kicking Bird didn't know enough to ask, and Dances With Wolves didn't know enough to answer. They, we, took the land because 'our children' mattered to us, and 'their children' did not.
And, this being key, we could not see 'their children' as being a part of 'our children'.
Why is this relevant now? Because the problem has not gone away. Why do some Americans want the Dreamers deported? Because to them those children are not 'our children'. Why do some Americans want immigration curtailed, if not stopped altogether? Because to them those children are not 'our children'. Why do some Americans want refugees banned? Because to them those children are not 'our children'. Why do some Americans oppose welfare spending that largely helps minority children? Because to them those children are not 'our children'. Why do some Americans want the support segregated education? Because to them those children are not 'our children'.
The difference between most liberals and most conservatives on these issues is whether or not we take an inclusive, or an exclusive, view of who is 'our children'. How are the children of many African Americans, many of whom have ancestors who have been in this country 100+ years longer than this country has been this country not 'our children'? And the answer is that they are our children, and they should be treated as such. But many conservatives just cannot accept that. And this applies to so many other groups as well.
The more inclusive you are concerning who can be considered our children, the more you favor acting in a moral and ethical fashion towards those children, and the children of others. And the more exclusive you are concerning who can be considered our children, the more you favor rules and policies that prevent the children of others from prospering. Or of living at all.
In the end, that's what it always comes down to. Our children versus their children. And who you are willing to consider as ours. That's the core truth of the human condition.