John G Bell


Fall '02 - Hill & Gilliam

Book Response: In Timber Country by Beverly Brown

A. Important things about ...

  1. the power and limitation of dialogue

Everyone has an agenda in this book but most people won't talk about their real agenda because the others they engage won't take the real issues seriously. So, each person involved sets about creating an issue in which to create a debate over which they have some leverage with the others. Each person creates their place in the debate by using an issue that isn't necessarily the true issue, and the other people at the table know and resent this fact. No one is willing to really address the issues of the other people unless they are somehow forced to deal with the issues. Unfortunately, since many of the most important issues are ones about which people can't be forced to debate, on the tangential issues are ever addressed, leaving everyone unsatisfied no matter what the outcome.

  1. American or world society

The mechanisms of prejudice is subtly present and overtly present in these interviews. The mechanism that manifests as racism is also present in divisions in people's affiliation with ideas and other people. The facile way in which people divide themselves from other people, quickly creating a potentially violent stereotype is amazing and scary to watch.

  1. these specific groups

I learned a lot more about the motivations behind the different groups and a lot more background on the gentrification of the rural areas of which I hadn't been very aware.

I went to high school in rural Southwest Washington and so I was surrounded by the same kinds of people as were interviewed in this book. I was familiar with quite a few of the ideas and attitudes expressed by the people interviewed, but was not as aware of how tangled the issues were and was very dismissive of the complaints of job loss and other social issues. I realize that my attitude was and mostly is similar to that of the overly intellectual environmentalists mentioned in this book.

  1. myself

I find that the most interesting thing about the way I feel reading this book is that I wish I could just read the three parts that are exposition. I realized at the end of this book that I had pretty much dismissed the narratives as having something important to say in and of themselves and thought of them more in the context of supporting the points in exposition. This is a personal bias that I recognize

B. Talking points

  1. Racism in the Northwest: how bad was it really?


“But do you remember the old signs on the bridge? 'Nigger don't let the sun set on you here.'”

This goes along with something Angela mentioned about there being no provisions for integration on the campus of the university in California. I am always shocked by things like this. I've lived in North Carolina, Virginia, DC and Southern California as well as the Pacific Northwest and Southwest Washington. Of all those places, I thought the Pacific Northwest was relatively free from racism, but I find that's just not true. I suppose a great deal of that has to do with how little diversity there has been in this area until recent years, but I distinctly remember being in North Carolina and thinking how I wish I could get back to the Pacific Northwest to get away from the racism. There was a boy in my class when I lived in Virginia that wore a Confederate Army hat to school and wanted to join the Neo-Nazis when he was old enough. That kind of stuff wasn't in my memories of the Northwest.

There definitely was some obvious racism in Southwest Washington when I was there, now that I think back to my years in high school there. However, I think I dismissed it without understanding that it really existed. There have definitely been times that I've been confronted by overt racism and expressed my opposition, but I'm clearly realizing that I did more avoidance than opposition to the issue if I let myself think that it wasn't as overt as suggested in this book.

  1. Agenda manipulation and power to force dialogue.


“Spotted owl injunctions and the threat of preservationist victory brought the principle parties to the table ...”


“These narratives are very much about the desire of poor and working people to have a say in the direction of their community as well as their personal lives, and the reasons why they think that will not happen”

So many comments were made in these interviews about the Spotted Owl being just the excuse, a means to create the ends. I can see how this would create resentment and distrust in the dialogue. When the timber companies have all the power, the tool used to bring them to the table is the issue of the Spotted Owl, but the use of this tool alienates and manipulates the dialogue. One side swears there's no ulterior motive, but both sides know there is. If this is a dangerous tool to use, what other tools are there available to create the dialogue? It's like the idea that passive resistance is suicidal under some conditions, so would not be using the only available tool to get the means create a situation where one side can moot the point of the dialogue before being forced to the table. However, this same method is being used currently by the administration to create support for the war on Iraq. For example, the scapegoat of Iraq is being used to spearhead special agendas and the desires of the administration both internationally to further the repair of the American empire and nationally to the further construction of the police state. So, how can one support the use of misdirection to create dialogue in one case but not in another. If the dialogue isn't forced then the ends are determined by the side with the most initial power. So what about the need for dialogue when one side has no power or the means to engage the Other? This is essentially the question creating of dialogue by any means necessary. How can those forced out of the dialogue get a place at the table without resorting to deceit at a mild end or force out of desperation?

How do we make sure we're really talking, and willing to talk, about addressing people's concerns when the only concern the Other will engage is their own? The book makes this point later on by quoting Frederick Douglass saying that those in power will never willing give up privilege.

  1. Communities of Affiliation vs. Local Interests


“Neighborhood and workplace networks dissolve in a highly segregated community. 'Communities of Affiliation' take their place.”


“These narratives are very much about the desire of poor and working people to have a say in the direction of their community as well as their personal lives, and the reasons why they think that will not happen”

Lacking a voice in “communities of affiliation” could there not be a place for unions of people based on regional identities? Essentially a locally organized political union to address issues of real local concern. It seems like most of the political work is done to organize the huge amount of support necessary for state and national level issues, but there's so many voices that are left out. There was a speech on the radio by LaDuke, running with Nader, that talked about how the voting polls were very inconveniently located for some Native Americans so they worked up a plan to bus people to the polls. This is still motivated by the national level issues, but it's an example of the kind of locally needed community work.

  1. Loss of access to public lands and the loss of freedom of movement


“Informal economies based on natural resources occupy a central place in many poor and working people's lives. The maintenance of the public commons – free and open public land and waterways – is fundamental to economic and political democracy”

The loss of freedom and community is a big issue in several of these interviews. The availability of a public commons and access to the informal economy between individuals seem to be central to the idea of community. With so many cities working on creating the “urban village” with locally available amenities and services, there's a clear move toward simulation of this public common and economy, but subverted by clear authoritarian control and access provided to a minimal individual trade with more effort placed on creating the commons as a formal market for established businesses.

In many places the Farmer's Markets are available, but they are also often times created within a business focus and physically within some kind of established shopping core. The old informal barter and individual sales exemplified by the street vendors that used to line Broadway in Seattle is something that's barely available outside of a remote concert parking lot anymore.

Not only are the lands in the public trust being defined by property owners into a kind of gated community, but the smaller space of community are mostly gone as well.

C. Outrageous statement or claim

I feel like most of this book is spot on in the analysis of what was happening and makes a good effort to provide ideas for how the issues could really be resolved. So, there's not much of the book itself or the author's intention to which I would disagree or think is outrageous.

However, within the context of the book itself, I find something about which it talks to be outrageous and something I get very frustrated with in my life. The book talks about how disaffected the poor and working classes are when confronted by the issues in this book, but also makes mention of how easily the concerns and activism of the poor and working class are manipulated by the timber industry to support the timber industries agenda of more profit even when it isn't in the self interest of the people. So, on the one hand there's a call to bring everyone into the democratic process, but at the same time there's clear indication that these additional voices are quickly manipulated when they are available. Personally I suppose both the inclusion of the people in the democratic process but I'm also scared to death of what they will say. This is a contradiction with which I struggle in my own opinions.

This is similar to the conversation that I had with Patrick at the Compassionate Listening event. Patrick mentioned that one of the conservative guests to a previous class stated that he realized his desire to believe that people will do good but how hard it is to actually believe this to be true. I personally want to believe that people will try to stay informed and avoid being manipulated by those wishing to, as Noam Chomsky says, manufacture consent. Of course, I'm fooling myself to think that I'm not also a product of my times and the same forces, but I'm uncomfortable with the idea of giving a real voice to people that aren't interested in issues beyond what they are presented by the media or the cult of personality. Of course, here I speak about the cult of personality and I've just regurgitated the words of Chomsky. This is why I get so frustrated with this issue. I can see that I'm stuck in the web with everyone else.