On States of Mind

by David McKells
From Number 71 – December 1994

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Spring 1991 issue of SMALL FARMER’S JOURNAL (Box 1627, Sisters, OR 97759), a publication which advocates horse-powered, family farming. Although the topics of voluntaryism and the survival of small farming may seem miles apart, in fact, there is a close parallel which is brought out in this article. Freedom can only grow and thrive if we practice it ourselves and pass its spirit along to our children and close friends, just as small farming can survive only, as the author of this piece concludes, if they “work, practically, gracefully, and with dignity.”

His most important point, however, is that the Hopi Indians understood that the enemy “is a state of mind.” Stockpiling guns to defend ourselves against the State or trying to get elected to some office may seem like powerful strategies, but, in fact, they are not. Both mimic the enemy, by attempting to fight the State on its own ground. Such strategies are a failure, from the voluntaryist point of view, because they only reinforce the attitudes that make it possible for the State to exist in the first place. If we want to deal voluntarily with other people, and have them deal with us likewise, then we need to practice freedom and liberty in our own lives. It may seem difficult to “resist not evil,” but there are powerful reasons, both moral and utilitarian, for heeding that advice. “Those who fight evil necessarily take on the characteristics of the enemy and become evil themselves.”

Bob LeFevre used to draw a large “T” chart on the blackboard. One side he would describe as the State and City Hall. The other side of the “T” he would label “Freedom and Liberty.” To which side of the “T” do you want to devote your life’s energies – fighting City Hall or becoming a better person, raising a family and operating a profitable, honest business? Portrayed graphically in this manner, the question leaves little room for hesitation. The voluntaryist will never hesitate to opt for “Freedom and Liberty,” knowing that “if you take care of the means, the end will take care of itself.” Or as the Hopi elder put it, “strong and deliberate persistence in one’s own way and prayer (are always) the best weapons.”]

I read the ‘editorial debate’ in the Winter ’91 issue with great interest. It was especially meaningful to me that Arthur and Zelka should cite the federal government’s attempt to relocate the Navajo and Hopi from Big Mountain, Arizona, so that Peabody Coal can strip-mine coal to ship to Japan. They cite this issue as compelling them to turn their interest towards activism.

It was exactly this issue that compelled me to move from activism (no matter how good that “steadfast self-martyring gaze” felt) to the much more focused task of trying to run the family farm.

I was in graduate school at the University of Colorado when I first heard of the ongoing tragedy of Big Mountain. I was deeply touched, for I had been the sixth generation on a farm located between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in western Kentucky. My family settled there in the 1780s. The federal government ran us off our land in the 1960s when Kentucky and Barkeley Dams were built so that “Land Between the Lakes” recreation area could be formed. Many tried to resist with lawyers and sometimes more desperate means.

The image of an old, one-legged woman holding off the government men with a double-barreled shotgun is permanently etched into my mind. Those who tried to hold out, including the old woman, had their houses bulldozed and burned with all their belongings still inside.

I had always tried to tell myself that this sort of thing could not happen anymore, but here were Indians trying to hold off the same treatment from the same government. I joined a group working on this issue and spent time at Big Mountain talking with these people. It was during this time that things started to click. They had been on their land a long time. The Hopi have been farming on the same ground for 10 to 15 thousand years. Many of them had never bothered to learn English. All they knew was their way. And it was enough. They knew that their lives were a direct expression of that piece of land. And they understood that their farming practices and religious attitude (the two are not separate) tied them to their land through each complex interaction. Too many people think being moved to “better” real estate would be a great deal. But this is because they are native to no place. Home is a place to commute from.

A Hopi Elder told me that the bulldozers and federal marshals supporting Peabody Coal were not the enemy. The enemy, he said, is a state of mind. It’s a state of mind that has been carrying out a conquest of this continent ever since it hit the East Coast. The conquest was not about guns vs. arrows. That was a symptom of the disease. The disease was a clash between states of mind. If you fight a state of mind with confrontation, he told me, you strengthen that state of mind. (Resist not evil.) Our enemy, he said, is on a different plane from the bulldozers. He thought strong and deliberate persistence in one’s own way and prayer were the best weapons.

I understand the predicament these people are in. I had been there as a kid. Then an interesting sequence of events occurred. I found myself in a university working with lawyers and professional activists. I was trying to help the “native” cause from the position of a conquistador. I felt like the people Wendell Berry speaks of who oppose power plants from their air-conditioned homes. Then I got word that an offer had been made on my maternal grandparents’ farm. This hundred-acre farm, about twenty miles from the paternal family farm now covered with Winnebagoes, was going to be subdivided unless somebody in the family wanted it. And no one else did.

Something snapped. Had we not been native to these farms? Was not the subdividing of that farm more of the conquest I was wanting to help stop? That state of mind which holds no place in reverence, which turns husbandry into agribusiness, and would willingly strip-mine farm for money, was about to consume my family farm for the second time. The notion of “home” in its full sense became very real.

Now my only connection with a university is when I get a soil test. I mend fences my grandfather built. I cut hay he sowed in fields he cleared. I water my horses in creeks I played in as a child. I have repaired the barn my father and both grandfathers built together. And I build fences and outbuildings my kids may someday repair. But perhaps most of all, I cultivate an intimate knowledge, love, and reverence for this place in all its intricate complexity. Does this help the Hopi and Navajo who are at this moment trying to patiently outlast Peabody Coal and the federal bureaucracy? Not on the plane where bulldozers exist.

But the conquest is very quietly going on all around us. Speaking out, passing petitions, etc., all need to be done. But I believe the strongest blow I can make against that state of mind -the one trying to gobble up the last remnants of traditional Indians as well as the last remnants of the family farms – is to be truly at home in my place. To raise a family here and pray the kids will understand. To nurture a native, respectful state of mind.

Perhaps the strongest, most direct weapon we have is to make our farms work, practically, gracefully and with dignity. And do it out front and in the open for everyone to see.

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