Little Library in the Dark Woods: The rise of talk radio and the Internet have fueled the rise of The Crazy.
It's surprising to see how many people are drawn to the way of The Crazy. Ben Carson recently took that road with his silly, absurd account of the outlook of people who were brought in chains from their homes in Africa to this brutal new land.
It's surprising to see how many people are drawn by the allure of The Crazy, or at least by the thrill of The Dumb. Over Here, within our infallible tribe, we've spotted some recent examples.
To ponder what recently happened at Middlebury College, we'll suggest you read this appraisal by New York Magazine's Andrew Sullivan, or this piece by the Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf. We'll especially suggest that you watch chunks of the videotape of the incident.
The videotape runs 43 minutes. By the end of the evening, a professor had gone to a hospital, where she was diagnosed with a concussion.
Sullivan blames the incident on the rise of the "academic craze" of "intersectionality." We can't assess his claims. For ourselves, we were mainly struck by how young the Middlebury students looked—and by how dumb their conduct seemed.
In fairness, we all tend to be dumb when we're young. Beyond that, the fact that the conduct looks dumb to us doesn't establish the fact that it actually was.
Today, though, the promotion of dumbness within all our tribes is a big business. Increasingly, the evidence suggests that this promotion works.
It's amazingly easy to spot The Dumb when it occurs Over There. To consider its possible role within our own liberal tents, liberals might consider this letter in today's Washington Post.
The writer complains about an earlier letter, one we cited in real time. That original letter complained about the "racist content," overt and otherwise, in Laura Ingalls Wilder's famous "Little House" series of books.
The original letter came from a librarian in Takoma Park, Maryland, a Washington suburb with a reputation as the Berkeley of the mid-Atlantic states. Today's rebuttal complains about the librarian's attitudes and her professional conduct.
We thought the librarian's letter included some good points, but also that she was perhaps a bit inclined to the tribally crazy and dumb. We thought she had her thumb firmly on the scales as she described the contents of Wilder's books. We were especially struck by her criticism of the second paragraph of Wilder's very first book.
Quite literally, this librarian is brought up short by the second paragraph in Wilder's first book! Here's the full text of her original letter:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (2/25/17): Regarding the Feb. 7 Style article “A ‘Little House’ still leaves a big impression,” about the 150th birthday of “Little House” author Laura Ingalls Wilder:We salute the sacrifice of this woman's father. Beyond that, we agree with one part of her critique. Because they emerge from lived American history, the brilliantly-crafted Little House books do create interpretive challenges for modern readers, who may not be many years old.
This otherwise well-written article failed to mention that the “Little House” books actually have a problematic reputation among many children’s librarians these days because of racist content and stereotyped characters, particularly in Wilder’s portrayals of American Indians.
One of the most egregious examples of this racism occurs in “Little House on the Prairie,” when Wilder states that her mother believed that “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” There are numerous other examples of Ma Ingalls’s racism—highlighted by the illustrations by Garth Williams of fierce-looking Indians—found in that same book. Less overt is the racism contained in the second paragraph of “Little House in the Big Woods,” when Wilder details her surroundings and neglects to mention the presence of American Indians who also lived there: “There were no houses. There were no roads. There were no people. There were only trees and the wild animals who had their homes among them.”
At our library, we’ve opted to keep the books in our collection, as they still offer a window on a certain slice of Americana. However, we don’t highlight them or otherwise give them special attention, and I don’t recommend them when asked for book suggestions. When a patron asks for the books, I mention the problem of racist content and suggest that the books offer a good way to talk with children about racism and how we have worked to change things since the books were published decades ago. I also recommend reading the Birchbark series by Louise Erdrich. This critically acclaimed series is set in much the same time period as the “Little House” books but features protagonists who are Ojibwe; Erdrich herself is American Indian.
The “Little House” books are beloved by many generations of readers who grew up reading them (and I’m one of the people who grew up loving these books—I still have the set my father was able to buy me by giving up his lunches for a month). While I may have happy memories of reading the books as a child, that nostalgia doesn’t justify keeping on blinders about them as an adult.
Then too, we have the challenges posed by tribal minds, including the occasional mind Over Here:
In her letter, the librarian cites a remark which is said to arise from Ma Ingalls' "racism" toward the American Indians who play a key role in Wilder's third book, Little House on the Prairie. She doesn't mention the specific historical context Ma cites when she makes that remark.
She also doesn't mention the fact that Pa Ingalls has a very different set of reactions to those same Native Americans.
Pa Ingalls constantly speaks with admiration of these neighbors, who are sometimes angry and menacing. Indeed, an array of characters express an array of views about these American Indians. This may reflect the array of views which may have obtained among settlers like the Ingallses.
In Little House on the Prairie, Pa Ingalls is respectful and admiring of the American Indians around him. Little Laura, the star of the book, is enthralled by, and envious of, the relative freedom of the Indian children she sees.
The book involves a fascinating array of reactions and views within the Ingalls family itself. The librarian, who may have some blinders on, managed to mention just one.
As noted above, the librarian was brought up short by the second paragraph of Wilder's first book, Little House in the Big Woods. She complains that Wilder "neglects to mention the presence of American Indians who also lived there" at that time, around 1870, in Wisconsin's "Big Woods."
(Wilder was born in Wisconsin in 1867.)
Did Wilder disappear her Indian neighbors in her famous first book? We don't know, but an historical tract by the state of Wisconsin seems to suggest something different.
According to that historical tract, The Treaty of Prairie du Chien had "demarcated boundaries between settlers and American Indians" as early as 1825 in Wisconsin. Here's the fuller text, with one typo corrected:
In 1804, the government forced the Sauk and Fox tribes to cede their land claims in southern Wisconsin in a treaty they had not agreed to. These actions led to the Black Hawk War of 1832. The largest American Indian population in Wisconsin, the Menominee, was pressured to sell away 11,600 square miles of land along the lower Fox River. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien of 1825 was significant in the history of American Indians in Wisconsin, after European settlement. The treaty was facilitated by the United States government to end the inter-tribal warfare that was disrupting the fur trade and creating tensions between settlers and the tribes. The tension between tribes was created because the United States government had used them against each other to gain more lands. The Treaty of Prairie du Chien established a treaty of peace among the tribes and demarcated boundaries between settlers and American Indians.That history of the state of Wisconsin isn't meant to sound attractive. If it's accurate, it suggests that Wilder's family wouldn't have encountered a lot of Native Americans until they moved to Kansas, the part of their family history which is fascinatingly described in Little House on the Prairie.
By , most American Indians had been placed on reservations and the government discontinued its use of treaties with them. The government changed its focus to "de-Indianizing" this population, creating schools that attempted to rid them of their cultural traditions and ways of life by breaking tribal ties and molding them into the image of white settlers. However, before this time, between the late nineteenth century through the 1920s, the federal government aimed to mainstream Native Americans through the policies of assimilation and allotment. Some of these schools included Menominee Boarding School at Keshena, Oneida Boarding School at Oneida, Lac du Flambeau Boarding School at Lac du Flambeau, and Tomah Industrial School at Tomah.
In Little House on the Prairie, Pa Ingalls speaks of the local Indians with great respect; Little Laura wishes she was allowed to ride ponies across the prairie the way the Indian children do. The book provides a fascinating, varied portrait—until it reaches Takoma Park, where an easily-stereotyped liberal critic sifts and condemns and even starts dropping bombs.
The letter in this morning's Post portrays the librarian as a book-burner. Comments to her original letter help us see how we liberals, with our true-believing ways, often contribute to the perception that we're just a bunch of tribalized nuts.
We lose votes in such ways every day. This too sent Donald J. Trump to the White House. In the future, these tribal behaviors may serve to keep him there.
The librarian had the germ of a perfectly reasonable point. But then, she put her thumb on the scale and she started to sift.
People notice such unforced behavior by Us. It makes them think we're foolish. At that point, Rush steps in.