Two Tribes

70
Mon, Aug 5, 2013 - 8:32pm

An experience I had about six months ago left a profound impression on me, so much so that I find myself mentally referencing it whenever discussions arise regarding government spending and debt, or the end of the Keynsian experiment. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this experience shocked me in some ways, not because it invalidated opinions I previously held but because it made clear to me how much I had underestimated certain elemental forces at work and the cultural attitudes behind them. This essay is about the implications of that experience. I have no doubt that some will be offended by what I write here, and for that I am genuinely sorry as offending you is certainly not my goal. I can only state that what you are about to read is as completely accurate a description of the events as I can possibly relate- and I promise you that what I say happened actually happened.

In my work, I brushed up against a situation where two completely opposing worldviews were clashing. Their cultural assumptions and opinions could not possibly have been farther apart, and the animosity I witnessed was both deep-seated and raw. These groups were, in essence, two completely different tribes and I had an inside view of this clash because two people directly precipitating it thought – erroneously as it turned out – that I was a member of their tribe and treated me accordingly, giving me an insider’s tour of the conflict and situation with no holds barred.

The situation I was called in to consult on was as follows: There was an interesting property located in a rural township. The owner wanted to sell this property to the township with the idea that they would develop it for community use, and given its location this was an intriguing idea. However, because the site contained certain features that are given protection under law, two Government workers with expertise in these features became interested in the property and began working on obtaining funding so the township could acquire the tract. After discussing the possibility of purchasing and developing the property for community use with a few interested members of the Township Board of Supervisors, the Government employees did what they do in their professional arena. They went out and successfully obtained a sizeable grant from the state. With a chunk of free money in hand, they returned to the township believing that nothing stood in the way of the project moving forward as they envisioned… except for one tiny detail.

The full township board had not been notified that this money was coming in, and had not been consulted- nor had any official vote taken place. This presented a problem because the majority of the board, being elected in a rural area on a platform of fiscal responsibility, had not approved the plan. Indeed, there was no actual plan, no estimate of total costs, nothing. These supervisors pointed out that 1. The “free” money, while a considerable sum, was not enough to pay for the entire project and thus the township would be obligated to come up with the remainder, 2. There had been no accounting of future costs associated with the maintenance, staffing, equipment, etc that would be needed to maintain and operate the facility, so they had no idea what these costs would add to the budget in the future, and 3. The Township budget was balanced at the moment and thus the services they currently provided were sustainable at present levels indefinitely, but this meant that the budget was therefore already maxed-out absent new revenue. These people had been elected on a platform of no new taxes, thus when these elected representatives actually had a chance to vote on the project, they voted no. At this point, I was brought in by the Government men to consult on certain aspects of it, to see if I wanted to get involved in doing a study on the property.

All this is boring stuff, so far… but the tour I was given that day was truly remarkable. The Government men assumed that I was one of them- a “member of their tribe” because of my profession and current position. Because of this assumption, they spent all day telling me what they really thought. It was an education.

The Government men were in equal turns angry and astounded that their generosity in obtaining all of that ‘free’ state money for the township was so unappreciated. I was informed that it was only the pathetic ignorance and small-mindedness of the rural culture that had kept the project from going forward. In terms of the project, I was told again and again how these people lacked vision and were basically too stupid to accept the big pile of free cash that had been laid at their feet, a rank example of witlessness that the Government men found deeply offensive. The money was there, thanks to their efforts, and the stupid locals were too dumb to simply reach down and pick it up.

The government men referred all day long to the Township Supervisors as “hillbillies”, “hicks”, and on one occasion “Tea-party racists”, despite the fact that they were rural farm owners (in an area where the average farm is worth 1-2 million) and local businessmen/women, and despite the absence of any actual racial incidents of any kind. Though these people lived far from the isolated ‘hollers’ of Appalachia, and were successful business and farm owners in their community, I must have heard the term “hillbilly” forty or fifty times, interspersed with jokes about marrying cousins and inbreeding. One local supervisor was in favor of the project, and I was therefore told that “she was OK- must be the only one who has all her teeth, heh heh!”, as if all the rest of these community representatives were stump-toothed inbreds straight from “Deliverance”. Though it is entirely possible I have led a sheltered life, it was nonetheless the most blatantly bigoted conversation I have ever heard in person, leading me to wonder on the drive home if this was what it was like to talk to unapologetic bigots back during the 30’s or 40’s, merely substituting “Hillbilly” and “Inbred” for what would in a previous era have been “Darkie” or “Jew”.

It was crystal clear that these men were very comfortable speaking this way and that, indeed, this was likely how they and their co-workers in government usually talked, so easily did these slurs and aspersions flow during otherwise normal, professional conversation. In their tribe, it was apparently perfectly acceptable to characterize the other tribe in these terms. I was truly amazed at the depth of sheer disgust expressed.

At one point during the proceedings I was talking shop with one of them and he informed me that the new Governor’s budget cuts had necessitated a drastic change in how he oversaw certain state contracts which he supervises. According to state law, a specific type of survey was required prior to certain public projects, and after this survey was completed a report had to be submitted to the state. Previously, he sent these out on a contract basis to big companies to the tune of 50k per project, but with the new budget cuts, he informed me sadly that he was now farming the work out to a local state college, which could handle them at a cost of around 5 thousand per job. “How is the quality” I asked? He assured me that it was great, just as good as the big boys. Now I happen to know that around 20 of these surveys are done annually in my part of the state alone, and that this represents less than 1/4th of the total done statewide per year. I sat there (pretending to pay attention while doing the math) and trying to wrap my head around the fact that this guy basically just told me that he used to pay 4 million per year in state money to do these things, but when push came to shove he could do the exact same thing for just 500k. Given that this guy has worked in his current job for over a decade, I would guess conservatively that his casual little lunch admission means that on this type of project alone he personally has spent at least 40 million taxpayer dollars for projects he could have completed for 5 million over the last decade. He then went back to telling me how ignorant the local tea party was, and never missed a beat. It was a clarifying experience.

* * *

When I read of IRS employees targeting groups advocating for small government, using the extraordinary power of the government’s ability to tax in order to purposefully harass and target these groups in a direct effort to hamper their political activity and speech, I am not surprised in the least. They do not view these groups as ‘fellow citizens deserving of constitutionally protected rights", they view them as members of a different and profoundly inferior tribe, a tribe so debased and low that it is only right to treat them with disdain and to use whatever force is available to thwart their goals. When I read of the wailing and the dire predictions of disaster that would be caused by the small, virtually inconsequential sequester cuts made in the face of exponentially mounting Federal deficits, I am not surprised in the least. Those dollars are largely fictional to the tribe that spends them ‘on behalf of others’; the money is merely an abstraction representing to them departmental power or career advancement more than any actual value that must be earned through productive endeavor.

And you want to know the greatest irony, or perhaps tragedy, of the entire story? The government men who so unapologetically mocked the culture, the reasoning, and even the genetics of the small-government advocates from the township? When we left our meeting that day, those men returned to their offices in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania- the first state capital city to have been so profligate in its spending that it could not pay even the interest on its enormous debts and had declared bankruptcy just months earlier. These men were utterly oblivious to the fact that this rural community they so freely mocked was being run in a way that ensured fiscal survival and continuance, while they returned to taxpayer-funded offices at taxpayer-funded jobs in the first failed capital city in America, a basket-case polity so ill-managed that it can no longer pay for even the basic services required to remain a functioning city. This fact did not stop them from believing themselves to be utterly and completely superior to their small town/small government counterparts in public service. It did not for one second give them pause, or spur them to reason through the consequences of their assumptions of public works and spending in relation to the assumptions of governance they found so provincial and uninformed in the people of the township. The people of the township were, government men believed, members of an ignorant and benighted tribe and thus were entirely deserving of their contempt.

Two tribes. And I have no doubt that one of those tribes will feed without question or remorse upon the carcass of what was once a thriving economy, right up until the last scrap of flesh is devoured and there is nothing left to consume. To even question doing so would be to affirm a critique originating from the other tribe… and that would be unthinkable.

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JML-2012
Aug 6, 2013 - 10:50am

Pining hits close to home

Quite an interesting read. This one is especially so to me since I happen to live in Harrisburg and even work in one of those downtown state government buildings he references- Department of Environmental Protection here. I have heard similar attitudes from some “tribal” coworkers in the office (and from others outside of it), "Pennsyltucky" being the most common term of contempt used to refer to the rural and mountain areas of the state. But I’ve also heard unflattering names and plenty of unpleasant things said about the urban residents as well as the state workers by some locals who don’t work for it. So yes, I believe what he said is true, but to be fair it is only presenting one side of a multi-sided issue, and in my opinion ultimately this tribal attitude is just one of many reflections of the divide and conquer techniques used by the real power players by pitting all these different middle and working class people against each other. Not much different than what you’ll find anywhere in the US between the different races, cultures, religions, political persuasions, etc.

I can also tell you there are pretty much every kind of people working here, everything from ultra-liberal more-government-regulation-is-the-answer-to-all-problems types, to some of those rural hunters and farmers (one woman who sits across from me raises goats just like Katie!), lots of veterans, even a couple libertarians (myself included) and everything in between. Several of us are awake to the issues that are discussed daily on these boards. We're just the pions of state government, not much different than the pions of the corporate world, working 8-4 doing technical and scientific work (ideally) to balance the rights of private industry with the rights of everyone else not to be poisoned by said private industry's pollution. Many of us have good intentions and yet I don't doubt that some get off on power trips and that some of the regulation that comes out of this office goes too far. People are people everywhere you go. The truth of the matter is, in this town as the state capitol, government is pretty much the only major employeer around, and its employees are the primary supporters of the local economy.

As for these tribes, personally I'm not much for tribes or teams, never felt I fit in with any one in particular. I was raised in the rural outskirts of the city myself, spent my childhood playing in the woods and fields around the house, helping Dad chop and stack firewood and garden out back, and shooting BB gun. But I was also exposed to the pervasive urban ghetto culture that thrives in the city and spreads out through the suburbs. It's typically Pennsylvania, everything from rural "hillbilly" farmers and hunters, to typical suburban families, to an abundance of urban street thug homeboys, drug dealers and rejects from the NYC projects who shoot each other up every night, all residing within 10-15 miles of each other. So yes, stereotypes and prejudices abound on all sides.

Pining is dead on about one thing- The city is a hot mess. Bankrupt, corrupt, and crime-ridden with a barely-literate former welfare fraudster as mayor. She's just a useful idiot for the Wall Street firms and their paid-for guys in state government looking out for their interests that are raping the city in its bankrupt state. The plan is to strip the city's of all its assets to cover the massive, unpayable debts that the previous mayor stacked up and to ensure that they plant the losses firmly on the shoulders of the city resident/taxpayer. It's a long story but one which is being played out in different ways across the country, CA Lawyer's descriptions of Stockton come to mind.

Anyway, just thought I’d throw in my 2 mercury dimes on a local topic. Thanks for the post!

Urban Roman
Aug 6, 2013 - 10:45am

... if it weren't for bad

... if it weren't for bad luck I'd have no luck at all ...

treefrogJ Y
Aug 6, 2013 - 10:02am

turdistan now has a band!

stolen from...

21 Painfully Awkward Band Photos

luv2stak
Aug 6, 2013 - 10:01am

For Jim Willie

What is his (sources) take on the Vatican getting kicked out of their bank?

And (related?) Why did the usgov close the embassies this weekend?

s1lverbullet
Aug 6, 2013 - 9:19am

Excellent

I too have underestimated the government class's contempt for us common folk. And what really pisses me off is my wife and I work our asses off and are two of a small group of people who even pays taxes anymore. Just shameful.

benque
Aug 6, 2013 - 8:32am

Yes rtabit

That is what it says.

rtabit
Aug 6, 2013 - 8:12am

@benque

The value of the metals under these leases has not been reflected in the Corporation’s condensed consolidated financial statements since the Corporation intends to settle these commitments through receipt or delivery of the underlying metal.

Assuming they minted and sold the metals they leased they would have to either purchase the metal from whoever they leased from or purchase from somewhere else and return that metal to whoever they leased from. Rather than purchase metals outright and take price risk, they borrow (lease) and pay percentage just like any loan. They do this because they do not want to price metals minted until they are ready, especially if they expect the price to be lower.

imfd
Aug 6, 2013 - 8:11am

I thought we were we other tribe

Not wanting to spend money we don`t have on stuff we don`t need, dehumanizing aside.

Aug 6, 2013 - 7:31am

re tribes and Brave New World

I remember a federal election here, and our riding always goes to a prominent Liberal or NDPer, just the way it is when most of your neighbours work for the gummint. I had decided to vote for the Marijuana Party, because I fully agreed, for once in my life, with a political party's platform, this one resting on the solid plank of legalizing a weed. At our karate dojo, we actually had the candidate for the Communist Party training with us, along with his two sons and the lesbian lover of his ex-wife, but here's the funny part: there were two Communist parties running in the same riding ... a Trotskyite party and a Leninist party. Had they been able to cooperate, they would have out polled the stoners. But no, we out polled them and immediately government policy was changed. Or not.

As to Brave New World. A short and good read. Better than the movie, I would add.

And now a chide to Pining - a great post, but I was hoping you would also show prejudice from the other tribe. Those kinds of urban jerks are appalling, but the divide is on both sides, as witnessed by people here using the term "free-shit army", which I find shocking too. Dehumanizing one's opponent, or the person who stands in one's way, is universal.

Jakarta Expat
Aug 6, 2013 - 7:27am

ITS WAR

WAR

I just read on Drudge that the US is bombing Yeman with drones.

Here is a link https://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/05/world/yemen-us-drone-strike/index.html

Considering tomorrow night is the end of Ramadan and Thursday is the start of the largest Muslim holiday in the Muslim year this is not going to bode well thus more tribal problems.

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