Thursday, August 31, 2023

Corporate War on Altruism

Altruism, which I have defined many times in many ways on this blog, is doing well by doing good. It is not selfless sacrifice. The altruist gets many personal benefits by doing good to and for others.

Altruism confers such a strong evolutionary benefit that natural selection has given us very, very strong emotional pressures to support it. Altruism feels good. Going against altruism feels bad. We call it guilt. That is, unless you are a psychopath, which is a person (maybe one percent of the population) who completely lacks these feelings. Non-psychopaths can train themselves to stop feeling guilt, but it comes at a great emotional price.

But in today’s business world, corporate leaders are required to crush their feelings of altruism. Our modern corporate world is set up to eradicate altruism and guilt. I realized this as I was reading David C. Korten’s When Corporations Rule the World, which has an immense trove of examples. I will quote from pages 224 and 225:

“Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard University…suggests that top corporate executives must be paid such outrageous sums to ensure that they place the short term interests of shareholders above all other interests that they might otherwise be tempted to consider—such as those of employees, the community, and even the corporation’s own long-term viability. In short, top executives have to be paid outrageous salaries to motivate them not to yield to their instincts toward social responsibility (emphasis added).

“As one CEO related to Fortune (magazine), “You get through firing people the first time around, accepting it as part of business. The second time I begin wondering, ‘How many miscarriages is this causing? How many divorces, how many suicides?’ I worked harder so I wouldn’t have to think about it.’”

One executive who was repeatedly required, by his corporate boss, to continue firing people, “…began breaking out in spontaneous fits of crying and one day couldn’t get out of bed.”

Korten then says that the executives “are learning…that no amount of money can buy peace of mind, a strong and loving family, caring friends, and a feeling that one is doing meaningful and important work.”

This makes it clear, to me, that altruism is an instinct and that to go against it is emotionally devastating. Unless, that is, you are Donald Trump. His greatest moments of joy were when, on television, he fired people. He still exults in devastating people. That’s why his own niece, a psychologist, calls him the world’s most dangerous man. And millions of Americans want him to be the face of America to the world. If we give him this opportunity, again, then the nations of the world will hate us, for good reason. They may fear us, but they will hate us. And to millions of Christians, this is the very image of Jesus they want the world to see.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Race and History, As If You Needed Another Example: Jackson Barnett, part two

Jackson Barnett was an easy-going, illiterate, uneducated Creek Indian who lived near Henryetta, Oklahoma. The federal government forced him to accept an allotment in Drumright, near Cushing. Boy, did they regret doing that, as you will see. Barnett did not go and live on his allotment, because he wanted to be near family and friends in Henryetta. Some whites considered this to be a sign of incompetence, but it just sounds like he wanted to live near the people he knew and loved. My grandfather did not live on his allotment either.

But it turned out Jackson’s land was right over the Cushing oil field, one of the biggest in the world. Cushing still calls itself the oil capital of the world. There was so much oil that it seeped up in Barnett’s land. Jackson Barnett even looked a little bit like Jed Clampett from the Beverly Hillbillies; only, unlike Jed, Jackson did not have to go “shootin’ at some food, and up from the ground come a bubblin’ crude.” It was just bubblin’ by itself.

Suddenly, Jackson was very rich. We are talking millions. Or he would have been, except his county-court appointed guardian Carl O’Hornett controlled the money. And from there things started to get complicated. I am writing from memory, based on my reading of Tanis C. Thorne’s excellent biography, The World’s Richest Indian.

The federal government controlled Native tribes not through the Department of Justice, but the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA, which could also stand for Bossing Indians Around), as if Indians were natural resources, not people. When the BIA started hearing about guardian abuses (as described in the previous essay), they wanted to bring the situation under control. Actually, the federal government also wanted part of the action. So the BIA wanted to prevent O’Hornett from having so much power over Barnett. Eventually, the Department of Justice and Congress got into the fray also.

The state of Oklahoma got into the fray. Kate Barnard was driven—I mean driven—by the purest of motives, which led to her breakdown and premature death. But other members of her staff also had careers to build. And the state legislature got involved also.

Oh, and the Baptists. They talked Barnett into promising them a bunch of money.

Of course, the county where Jackson Barnett lived—Okmulgee County—wanted to keep control over Jackson’s money also.

The feds fought the state which fought the county which fought the Baptists in all possible combinations and in a series of laws and lawsuits that this here poor Injun can’t keep track of. The game piece was flying around like it was a game of stickball.

Of course, there was more. There was the woman Anna Randolph Lowe Sturgis who got a taxi ride down to see Jackson Barnett. She told the driver she was going to marry Jackson Barnett, whom she had never met. Now, Jackson was a nice but rather clueless guy, who either did not recognize Anna as a gold-digger or else thought a gold-digger was as good of a wife as any other woman would be. Anyway, they got married right away, though they had to drive real fast over the state line to Coffeyville, Kansas, to do so. So now, by law, she was entitled to half of Jackson’s worth. The other people mixed up in all this were not pleased. To her credit, Anna stayed with Jackson the rest of his life, even or especially when she bought them a mansion in Los Angeles. She made sure he stayed clean and well dressed and kept his Jed Clampett stubble shaved off.

Of course, nobody could actually say that Barnett was mentally incompetent, because that would make their contracts with him (for example, his marriage to Anna, but also his promise to give the Baptists a lot of money) invalid.

Everybody was upset about everything, except Jackson Barnett, who just rolled in a blanket by the fire and stayed happy. He had what he needed, more than he wanted, and was puzzled that everyone was so upset, especially Anna. After Jackson died, Anna went insane or close to it.

The point of this essay, as of the last, is that racism has no scientific basis. Jackson Barnett did some things—and seemed to enjoy doing them—that made people think he was incompetent to handle his money. But if he had been white, nobody would have questioned his right to do anything he wanted with his money. Examples abound, such as Donald Trump, but let me use a fictional example you might know about: The Great Gatsby in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Of all of the empathetic things that Fitzgerald wrote about Gatsby, he never once said Gatsby did not have the right to spend his money as he did. Probably most of the white people who were criticizing Jackson Barnett’s strange expenditures were spending their own money in an even more reckless fashion. Everyone, that is, except Kate Barnard, who died intestate.

Now suppose you wanted to move to another county. Jackson (and Anna) decided to move from Okmulgee to Muskogee County within Oklahoma. But they were almost not allowed to do it, because O’Hornett would not have authority over Barnett outside of Okmulgee County.

Isn’t it just like white people (including most of my ancestors) to think they know what everyone else should do with their money or their lives.

The Jackson Barnett case generated a lot of negative publicity about Oklahoma grafters, because so much money was involved. But there were tens of thousands of lesser Native victims, very few of whom ever had their fortunes restored.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Race and History, as if You Needed Another Example: Jackson Barnett, part one

If there is one thing that conservatives are proud of in America, it is that rich people can do whatever they want with their money, so long as it is not criminal, and then maybe even if it is. But this rule did not apply to people of color. In particular, Native Americans were regarded by the white governments (federal, state, and county levels) as being childishly imbecilic and unable to decide what to do with their own money.

When the federal government sent the Five Tribes (including my tribe, the Cherokees) to what became Indian Territory and later Oklahoma, they guaranteed by treaty that the land belonged to the tribes. For example, a large part of what is now northeastern Oklahoma belonged to the Cherokee Nation.

The Cherokees, like the other Five Tribes, considered that they owned the land as a tribe, not as individual landowners. The white authorities did not like this. It was too communist. They decided they would force the Natives to become capitalists. With the Dawes Act of 1887 and later the Curtis Act of 1898, the Five Tribes were required to have their tribal land divided into individual allotments for each tribal citizen, including minors. This may not sound unreasonable in itself, but it was a solution in search of a problem. So why did the white federal government do it?

They did it for two reasons. First, when they divided up the land into allotments, of which my grandfather Edd Hicks got acreage in section 26N township 17E, the total acreage of the allotments did not add up to the tribal territory. That is, there was land left over—which the government could sell. Second, the government could then control what each tribal citizen did with their land. There were restrictions.

For Natives with one-sixteenth or less blood quantum, there were no restrictions. Edd was about one-quarter, but he registered as one-sixteenth so that he would have no restrictions. For Natives with one-half or more blood quantum, they were restricted from selling the allotment or anything pertaining to it, which would include mineral (oil) rights. Their allotments had to be managed by guardians, as if the Natives were children who did not know how to take care of themselves.

Guardianship, as you might expect, was considered necessary for minor orphans. They really did not know how to manage their land. Guardians were supposed to take care of the land until the orphans grew up, then let them have it. The guardians could charge a reasonable service fee for the work. The national average for guardianship was 3 percent of the value of the property. In Oklahoma, it was on the average of 20 percent and in some cases 80 percent. Meanwhile, the orphans in many cases received no money at all from the sale of oil from their land. The guardians who practiced this method were known as grafters, and in Oklahoma in the early twentieth century this was a term of pride. Sixty thousand Native minors in Oklahoma owned $129 million in property. Some of the guardians had 200 to 300 wards. Two Creek children had land that was worth $250,000. They lived—and died—in an orphanage that was mysteriously dynamited. Then the guardian handled their probate. Guess who got the money.

The crusading reformer Kate Barnard, who ran the Department of Corrections and Charities, and who was one of the few honest people in the Oklahoma government, found out about it during her routine inspection of the living conditions of orphans. She found some Creek Indian children living in a tree, drinking from a stream, and living on handouts. She vividly described having to take scissors and cut out matted filth from their hair. These kids were millionaires, but they didn’t know it because their guardian, who had sixty other wards, did not tell them. He just kept the oil money. Kate spent the last part of her life trying to bring the grafters to justice. While she had been popular for her crusades to improve conditions in orphanages and prisons, she met with hatred from Oklahoma and county governments when she tried to rescue the Native orphans from grafters. This broke her health and she died without having finished her work. You can read all about it in the wonderful new biography by Connie Cronley (A Life on Fire: Oklahoma’s Kate Barnard).

In other cases, oil executives hired people to kidnap the minors and take them someplace where no one would recognize them. It was not, as far as I have heard, violent kidnapping. According to Cronley’s book, one of the oil executives who did this was Thomas Gilcrease, best known as the benefactor of the museum that bears his name in Tulsa. It is hard to, even today, think of any name more revered in Tulsa even by progressives than that of Thomas Gilcrease. But he hired someone to take a rich Creek orphan to England and get him to sign his oil rights to Gilcrease. More about Gilcrease in a later essay.

But it was not long before the federal, state, and local governments figured out that all they had to do was declare adult Natives to be mentally incapacitated in order to appoint guardians for them, who would decide what to do with the land. This was fairly easy to do, since state and county officials all believed that all Natives, even adults who were successfully running their farms, were mentally incapacitated. If Edd, who was smart enough to be on school boards and could raise any crop and any kind of livestock, would have been deemed incompetent if his land had oil on it.

This is the plot of the 1949 movie Tulsa (“the lusty, brawling saga of a city of adventure”), starring Susan Hayward, Robert Preston, and Chill Wills. Jim Redbird, the rightful Muskogee owner of oil land, played by Pedro Armend├íriz, was declared mentally incompetent by a judge. When he looked at the oil extraction and cracking on his land, for which he was receiving no money, and which spilled flammable pollution all over the ground, he touched a cigar to the hydrocarbons and burned up the oil rigs. This is one of the few early movies that shows Natives fighting back against white oppression. Perhaps oblivious to the fact that this movie was showing white Oklahomans engaging in criminal acts, Tulsans welcomed Hayward and Preston to their city and celebrated the opening of the movie. Tulsa grew as “the miracle city” directly because of the discovery of oil, and almost all of its early twentieth century philanthropists were oil men. To what extent the most famous of them might have profited from illegal acquisitions from the Muskogee Creek tribe, and to what extent the artistic culture of Tulsa is still dependent on that money (aside from Gilcrease), is something that few people, if anybody, knows anymore.

And this is exactly what happened to a Creek Native named Jackson Barnett. The reason this essay is on this blog is that racism has no scientific basis. See part two, to be posted soon.