Montana Jones

Montana n: A state of the northwest United States bordering on Canada. Admitted as the 41st state in 1889. The fourth largest state in the union, it includes vast prairies and numerous majestic mountain ranges.
Syn: Treasure State, Big Sky Country, Last Best Place.

Jones n: slang. An addiction or very deep craving.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Montana Style

Montana is a western state in the classic sense. Historically people who went west did so to try to scratch a living out of the hard land and be free from the bullshit found in the cities. Here in Montana I am finding plenty of fine people that come from that tradition. There is a strong attitude here that if a man can come and live in this land, make a living, and wants to continue doing so indefinitely, then that man deserves respect. It does not matter if that person is a logger or miner or school teacher or inn keeper or mushroom picker or whatever else his living comes from. It does not matter what that persons personal beliefs are or how big their home is or how rusted out their truck is or even if they comb their hair. If you can live in the west successfully, you have earned some respect. This fosters a large 'live and let live' sprit in the local population. The folks here respect their neighbors enough to let them do their own thing and generally frown on interfering in the affairs of others.

This 'live and let live' spirit I find here manifests in many different ways. If someone wants to sit on their front porch with their shotgun, yelling about all you damn trespassers, that's fine. And when a trespasser gets shot, that was pretty much his own fault and there is not any reason for anyone else to get involved. Or if someone wants to cut down every tree on their land, then so be it. There may be grumblings and gossip about wasted resources and how they will regret the decision when the wind picks up in the spring, but in the end it is their own land and the neighbors don't really have a say. If someone lives life as an alcoholic, or a druggie, or can't figure out that education leads to bigger paychecks, that is all fine. In Montana, every man is his own king.

For a long time Montana did not post speed limits on the highways. The correct speed to drive was whatever was "reasonable and prudent". This ended back in the 90's when the federal government threatened to withhold highway funds from states that did not conform to federal speed limit standards. Most Montanans found this to be un-neighborly and generally opposed to the way life ought to be lived in the west.

The 'no sales tax' thing one finds here in Montana also comes from this spirit. There are some cities here that either have or are considering adding a local sales tax, mostly the tourist destinations. The thinking goes that tourists can be used to fund schools or whatnot. This tends to rile up the locals in interesting ways with a powerful argument being that the Montanans will end up paying over half that tax themselves so why don't you damn gov'ment types just sod off, mind your own business, and leave the locals in peace.

'Live and let live' is a beautiful philosophy on paper. I'm sure most every starry eyed youth, self included, has uttered the phrase. But big city folk, like me, can actually have trouble with the reality of it. The idea is actually as anti-socialist as one can get. There is no entitlement in a 'live and let live' culture. No one is entitled to a fair break, or a good deal, or an education, or a job, or health care, or a comfortable retirement or even so much as a taxi cab or a local news station on the teevee. The only thing anyone is entitled to is what they can earn from the sweat of their own labor. If you didn't bother saving for your own retirement, no hand outs for you. If you didn't bother to give your kids a good education, tough luck for them. If you didn't think ahead to how cold and harsh the winter is here, no one will miss you when you freeze to death. Naturally this western philosophy conflicts somewhat with the socially-secure, medicared, food stamped, welfared culture that is the good ol' USA.

Montana Style and the Mall.

There has been an ongoing controversy in the Flathead valley about a proposed shopping mall. Having tuned in late I'm not sure if I have all the details right. But it goes something like this: A big time property mogul wants to make a new shopping mall. He has plenty of money, knows the right people in the government, and has a grand vision for the future economy of the area. All he needs is some zoning approval, a tax break, and the vote of the city council and he can create the hub of a new economically prosperous business district. This proposal generated a pretty good shitstorm. A great many members of the local community banded together to block the new mall. Arguments included planning to build on land with an inadequate aquifer, traffic congestion in the proposed area, negative impact on the current business district, taking business away from the existing mall. Many of the problems were addressed, new locations were picked, road word was done or planned. Concessions made. Many people are still up in arms and the shitstorm continues.

In the meantime some other developers went about their business and started planting some box stores up north of town. There is a Target and a Petsmart and Borders Books, and a Lowes and a few others filling in the gaps. The typical strip with the same names that can be found all over the country. The end result of all this is… A shopping mall. A big chunk of land with the same traffic problems, and business district impact, and environmental impact as a shopping mall would have had.

I was pretty stumped by this. I don't think anyone was really trying to stop the march of time and keep the area unchanged, although a minority of mall opposers might be like that. Could it be that Montanans are too foolish to know when a shopping mall is being constructed while they are opposing the construction of a mall? I doubt that too. The answer to this I think is in Montana style. When the mall mogul proposed his plan one significant piece was the tax break he needed. In exchange for a new development that would benefit everyone with new jobs and economic expansion he wanted the community to cut him a break. To a true Montanan this sounded a lot like entitlement. Here was someone going west, facing the same hardships as all the other pioneers and whining about how hard it was. In the west if you can't make it on your own, you don't belong here.

Montana Style and the Hippies.

I paid a visit to the Good Food Store in Missoula the other day. Montana hippy central. The store sells organic and natural products, is big into recycling, bring your own shopping bag to save resources, that sort of thing. The employees and shoppers here are good intentioned people. I've tended to lean left and hold liberal philosophies all my life, but this place bugs the crap out of me. I get the feeling that the hippies are turning up their noses at 'the common folk' that don't go to the trouble to buy only recycled or organic products. On an individual, one to one conversation, I find the people at Good Food to be genuinely decent, caring, intelligent and well intentioned. Even very in tune with Montana Style. Put these people into groups of three or more and you start to hear things about how SUV's and Hummers make them angry. How all mining and logging should be opposed. How development should be regulated so that they can enjoy a free and wild Montana.

I am having a hard time rationalizing the existence of the Good Food Store against Montana Style. Here is a group of Montanans that will adamantly and vocally disregard 'live and let live' if you happen to, say, drive a large SUV, or make a living at cutting down trees, or even toss your aluminum cans in the rubbish instead of the recycling. They appear to want the entire world to wear the same rose colored glasses they are. Pointing out things like prices at Good Food can be 10% to 30% higher than at the other supermarkets and poor people simply cannot afford to buy recycled and organic products does not stop them from believing everyone in the world ought to behave as they do. For a group of people that proclaims 'celebrate diversity', diversity appears to end when someone is different enough to need a big truck with a fuel efficient diesel engine instead of a Subaru.

Hey MJ! I followed Craig here. It's okay to hug trees - but I like to hug calves, too... And it would be impossible to farm with only a Subaru.
Excellent analysis.

The shitstorm over the mall sounds similar to many fights I have seen around the Big Sky. Especially the Bozeman vs. Wal-Mart fiasco.
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