Wednesday
May172006

« The Gamble—Losing To Win »

Last weekend I did a gig as monitor mixer for a Vietnamese concert out at Barona Casino east of San Diego. The nature of the event was so that the casino could woo some Vietnamese high rollers into the casino, and to urge them to bring their friends. I'm told this sort of thing happens a lot—casinos will butter anyone up to get them to come play. Gotcha. I just never found it myself, being staunchly anti-gambling. Anyhow, here are some reflections.

As you approach Barona, after a few miles driving in the mountainous region that surrounds the valley, you see the casino in all its glory. In the valley, it appears just outsized and huge, almost like a cartoon image drawn into a picture. All around its periphery is a white ranch fence, gleamingly pure. The campus is sprawling—it has a hotel which grabs your eye first, and a casino, and a convention center, as well as several outbuildings. And the parking garage? Oh, the parking garage—bound to be nearly useless within a few years as people lose their love of driving due to skyrocketing gas prices, and furthermore as they lose any money they would have to gamble, unless of course, they gambled with more determination because its their last hope for getting something for nothing in America! At any rate, the garage is huge, maybe five levels tall, and could not be more out of place in that valley.

I have long joked that the wealth of the white man was once the wealth of the Indian (native American, of course), and now the greed of the white man, once the destroyer of the Indian, will now be the Indian's best hope for restoring any of their previous prestige and control over the affairs of this land. Yup, Barona is one instrument of such a transfer of wealth back to the Indian population. But the Indian tribes have to adopt the European-modeled ways. And it appears that some of them put them at cross-odds with their own history!

Back to the fence. First off, wasn't it the natives that had no idea of enclosure of the commons? The land could not be owned, only revered and shared? Figure A here in my commentary is this: the fence surely is a white person's creation, especially this design—post after post, with 3 levels of horizontal slats ringing the whole place! And, to deepen the irony, the fence itself is made of plastic! And, going even further, on the inside of the white fence is a barbed wire fence! Two fences to protect the private property of the native American tribe? Whatever happened to the commons?

Going inside, into the casino and further into the buffet, rather hungry after the hours of work on each night, I got another idea of how the Indian adopted the white man just enough to separate him from his money, but in doing so sold out his own cultural values again. In the buffet restaurant, there are all sorts of old timey signs and advertisements that pretty much date from about 1880-1920 or so—the heyday of Americans closing the gap between the coasts, expanding west and pressing the natives out of the land, giving them these little postage stamp sized reservations, such as Barona has now. All these ads glorify the white man's work in agriculture, domestic conveniences, automobiles, and other things that were the hallmark of the time. They had farm and forestry implements hung on the wall (a huge two man saw for cutting down old growth forests), and more such instances which declared the white man's arrival on Indian land, and the submission that resulted. And, the buffet itself is contrary to the communal and conservative (in the real sense of the word—to ensure sustainability) ethic that governed life before the white men arrived—eat as much as possible until you explode and don't worry about how it will be provided in the future. Just think about how much energy and land it takes to ensure that just one casino can keep providing all-you-can-eat food for thousands of people each day. It's hardly the economics of "enough" that indigenous people have to live by when their resources are few and dear. It doesn't even retain an echo of the ethic of concern for how future generations would live.

So the Indian tribes now adopt the white man's corporate style of enclosing property, declaring it as owned and worthy of fences, security cameras and guards. They buy machines from the white men so that they might let the white men's greed fuel their attempts to preserve their culture. They adopt parking garages with no aesthetic appeal and let them be placed next to buildings that clearly come from the design sensibilities of the white man. They allow themselves to forget the sustainable ethic by having enough food to feed already fat people, and yet there is so much that gets thrown away still. They sacrificed their reverence for the natural world by laying down acres of asphalt to park on and widening roads to drive on.

Who then is really making the ultimate gamble? The white men who are going on as being white men, with their rampant lust for cheap gains? Or the natives who had to play by the white man's rules, even when they did so to ostensibly do damage control to limit the earlier damage of centuries past? What will become of the natives when their best hope for being autonomous and culturally relevant again means they must play by the white man's rules, and to be more cutthroat while doing so? And then of course, what is their economy going to amount to when their land has been paved over, their people trained in the ways of white economics models, and then the corporate/industrialized white world finally sputters out due to the centuries of greed and exploitation that will finally bring everyone down with the decline of reliable energy and resources? Unless the Indian populations are bracing for the fall of the economic infrastructure of the white man's world, they are in the same boat! Right now, they depend on greed for their economic power. Same as the white man. It reminds me of the end of Animal Farm when the pigs and the humans could not be told from one another because the pigs learned how to walk on two legs, like humans, once their sworn enemies, a far cry from when the motto of the farm was "four legs good, two legs bad!!!"

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