I heard a news story this morning about how cattle rustling is a big problem in the rural areas of Oregon. Cattle thieves continue a centuries-old tradition, even in 2010. Oregon’s laws require branding of cows to keep track of ownership. Nearby states do not. On the radio program, Malheur County sheriff and rancher said, “One guy on horseback with a good dog can fill a trailer.” Across the border, possession is the law.

My beloved Meadows Valley

…and images of my childhood in a ranching valley in northern Idaho came to mind.

Growing up in a tiny ranching/logging town, we were self-sufficient and didn’t trust government or outsiders. Credit it to hundreds of years of being off the radar of the nation. Out there in the Wild West, people create their own solutions; they help each other as insurance against future need, and place great value on non-conventional tools such as a good dog.

Theft of 150 cows over a few years could be devastating, through the unrecovered expenses it entails. Rural westerners seem to be always on the edge of broke, and each new season provides the opportunity (or not) to pay off last years’ bills. But even beyond that, theft is an unforgivable act among people who must pool their resources to keep the community intact. Theft damages the integrity of the whole system, by removing the resources. It removes a provider and creates one additional needy family.

The perspective of the news program was to suggest microchipping cattle. It may surprise city-dwellers to know that cattle ranchers aren’t warm to the idea. Why aren’t they? It’s because true westerners have a core understanding that self-reliance is the only aspect of life to count on. Aside from The Almighty, of course.

  • 1) any problem is solvable at home
  • 2) no one in Washington, D.C. has a clue
  • 3) only you and your neighbors understand the situation accurately
  • 4) the less control an organization or government has over your livelihood, the better

One does not thrive in the wilderness without developing convictions similar to these. And, when it has served a population for thousands of years, it becomes instinctual to cling to proven measures of safety. In this light, it’s much easier to understand fierce resistance by large segments of our national population to national programs. Healthcare, anyone?

Many intelligent people champion brilliant arguments to support social programs. They can make the mistake of discounting people who don’t buy it. In their confusion about why the case for a social program wasn’t accepted, the champions can make the mistake of assuming the resistors are not intelligent. They consider that perhaps the worldview of rural citizens isn’t large enough to understand the greater issues at stake.

The biggest mistake of all is not to try to understand the core of the resistance. Say, for example, that rural people are quite intelligent, especially in the aspects of survival. If this is true, then what is responsible for the resistance? If microchips could provide an opportunity to track every last cow and calf in a national database, what could possibly explain resistance? What arguments would address their interests?

Let’s take it beyond ranchers. Beyond rural experts vs. national experts. Extend to indigenous populations vs. colonizers, individuals vs. corporations, small poor countries vs. large rich ones. How about the experienced workforce vs. the employees fresh out of college?

Not the brainland - the Heartland of Idaho.

I catch myself sometimes assuming a breakdown in communication is due to one side being simple-minded. The cattle rustling story was a simple example to help me see a bigger, more accurate story of world peace and conflict.

Though I’m many years and many experiences away from my rural Idaho home, I retain a bit of that old instinct. I can tell you from an insider’s perspective that while they are often judged as ignorant, entire rural populations are convinced that THEY are the only bastion of clear-thinking intelligence to be found.