Jim Stiles in a recent op-ed piece in High Country News (21 Feb 2011) titled “Words that reverberate, words that hate” commented on what he feels is the escalating, deteriorating, and polarizing rhetoric that is occuring around San Juan County, UT. Even though I live on the Wasatch Front, I reside part-time in San Juan County. And a big part of my job (with a federal resource agency) involves small projects in southern Utah.
Stiles describes both sides of the verbal battle:
Environmentalists complain about all-terrain vehicles and their impacts, but many simply loathe the ATV drivers, sight unseen, whether they handle their machines responsibly or not. On the other hand, rural conservatives mock the mountain mikes that have become so ubiquitous, even though it’s not really the bicycles they despise but rather the Lycra-clad riders atop them.
As the rural West becomes more urbanized, the sheer physical proximity of opposing points of view makes the debate even meaner. …
One group that Stiles omitted from his op-ed piece are the Navajos, who are half of the county’s population and half of its land base. They are also the poorest group.
The resident anglos are even divided by class. The highest caste being the descendants of the Hole-in-the-Rock settlers, and next are the descendants of the Mormons who were chased out of Mexico by Poncho Villa. Last is everybody else. I don’t want to seculate on where the Navajos fit into all of this.
There is no doubt that the rhetoric surrounding San Juan County needs to ebb. Community leaders from the anglo-conservative, anglo-environmental, and Navajo Nation need to come together and agree to respect each others rights and to work together toward mutual county goals. They need to help protect the county’s assets and ease the county’s poverty.
The impressions and ideas that guide our actions are so often misguided and poorly conceived. It’s not that our own rhetoric is directly responsible for the actions of others, it’s that we need to acknowledge that cruel words and hateful speech are actions unto themselves. And surely we must be held responsible for that.
I realize that I’m a day tripper in San Juan County, but I love its people, its physical beauty, and its sunset sky. But there is a tension in the county that needs to abate.