May 20, 2008

No Time for Indians

Tim Giago claims "The 2008 Time 100: The World's Most Influential People" unfairly excludes Indians. The reality is more complex than that.

Time Magazine Snubs Indians AgainThere are the usual suspects of movie stars, rock singers and politicians on the list and I am sure they have exerted some influence on some people or activities in their lifetime. But again I ask, why no Native Americans? Could it be that the editors of Time magazine are, as the editors of other mainstream media, so ignorant of the Native Americans in their midst that in their minds they do not exist? To go from the predominant culture to non-existent in 500 years is truly amazing and frightening.

Every Native American can probably name 10 Indians that deserve to be on Time's list of most influential people. The problem is nobody asks them. Out of sight out of mind does not lead to a cohesive means of communications. White and black editors see who is around them in their own little world and Native Americans are not a part of their world.
Comment:  Giago goes on to name Ernie Stevens Jr., John Echohawk, John Yellow Bird Steele, Wilma Mankiller, and Eloise Cobell as candidates for the list.

I wish there were more influential Natives. But I don't have a problem with Natives not being on the list. We're talking about the 100 most influential people in the world. Heads of state, of religion, of multinational corporations. Newsmakers and celebrities whom millions of people listen to and emulate. Does any Native person really compare to that?

Stevens or Cyrus?

Consider Ernie Stevens Jr. He's been a great leader for the Indian gaming industry, but how many people does this industry affect worldwide? Not that many. If he hadn't existed, would the industry be substantially different? I doubt it.

Or consider Elouise Cobell. She brought a great scandal--the lack of payments on trust fund accounts--to light. But so far there hasn't been a definitive court ruling requiring payment. And even if the US did pony up billions of dollars, how many people would it help? A few hundred thousand? That's less than 1/10,000th of the world's population.

Giago compares Stevens to Miley Cyrus:Stevens has managed to pull the gaming tribes together in a coalition that has stood as one to protect their rights. I would say that his influence is much more consequential to a people than say that of a Miley Cyrus.This shows the problem with Giago's position. The list isn't of the 100 people whose influence has saved the most lives or lifted the most people out of poverty. That would be a different, more narrowly focused list. This list is about the most influence, period.

It doesn't matter whether the influence is good or bad, consequential or inconsequential, short- or long-lived. If millions of people are following you, it doesn't matter where you're leading them. You have influence by definition.

Giago makes a mistake

If you look at Time's list, I think you could argue against most of the people on it. If I were making the list, it would consist mostly of world leaders and CEOs with a smattering of inventors and celebrities. No way would I include Robert Downey Jr. (who isn't really a millionaire playboy industrialist) and leave off Pope Benedict XVI. But I doubt I'd add any Natives.

Actually, Giago has overlooked one Indian on the list: Evo Morales. As Time put it:When union organizer Evo Morales was elected President of Bolivia in 2005, it was the first time in the country's history that the indigenous people, who make up roughly 60% of the population, had one of their own as President. He moved quickly away from the neoliberal policies of his predecessors to try to help his community, the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line.Morales, an Aymara Indian, is the kind of Native who should be on the list. For starters, he's trying to transform an entire nation. More than that, he's providing a vision for indigenous movements around the world. That's a lot bigger than leading a tribe, nonprofit, or trade association in the United States, no matter how well someone does it.

Let's look at the numbers. There are roughly 50 million Indians in the Americas. Most of them--about 95%--are in Latin America. These Indians comprise slightly less than 1% of the world's population. (50 million = 1% of 5 billion.)

If you went by the statistics, you'd expect to find one Indian, a Latin American, in Time's 100. Lo and behold, that's exactly what you find. Far from being biased, Time has fairly and accurately gauged the relative importance of Indians.

Who's the most influential?

Unfortunately, Time didn't rank the people in its list. Humorist Joel Stein explains the problem:Numbering a list is a journalistic rule so obvious even E! understands it. But TIME's editors won't stoop to rank the TIME 100. No, they're afraid of hurting people's feelings or making a mistake.Stein, who is proud of having no mathematical abilities, came up with a formula for ranking them. It's based on such factors as number of Google hits and mentions in the British Financial Times.

To me this seems like a valid approach. The number of times we talk about people is a rough guide to their influence. As someone who does have a mathematical background, I approve of Stein's effort.

With that in mind, here are Stein's top 10:

Vladimir Putin
George W. Bush
Ben Bernanke
Hillary Clinton
Barack Obama
Evo Morales
John McCain
Tony Blair
Kevin Rudd (Australian PM)
Dalai Lama

Not bad. According to Stein, a Native is the sixth most influential person in the world. Morales is the third highest world leader, the second highest non-Caucasian (after Obama), and the highest person from the "Third World."

Of course, one could argue with this ranking also. Clinton, Obama, and McCain won't have a significant world influence unless they're elected president. Blair is out of office. No one from Australia has significantly influenced the rest of the world.

For more on the subject, see The 200 Greatest Pop Culture Icons.

Below:  Someone can be influential even if he doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.


dmarks said...

Evo Morales trying his hardest to be a fascist dictator in the Castro or Chavez mode is no way to help his people. Stalinism loves the poor like Colonel Sanders loves chicken. But he is influental. Somewhat. I've read that the political realities of his country have somewhat thwarted his efforts at power-grabbing and increasing oppression and his personal wealth.

Rob said...

The list includes Baitullah Mehsud, who's there because he's the "mastermind" of the Benazir Bhutto assassination. As far as I'm concerned, the list could include Osama bin Laden, Ali Khamenei, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and others of that ilk. Whether you agree with their actions or not, they're influential.

Here's the rest of Morales's entry. Note that it was written by Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economics:

In a time of skyrocketing commodity prices, Morales, 48, earned the ire of the oil companies and the envy of other Presidents in the region by renegotiating outdated energy contracts to earn more money for the country's coffers—a portion of which he put toward increased health-care and social spending. He has resisted the temptations of his high position in favor of a low-key manner that includes an appreciation of simple food—a meat-and-potatoes man, he once took me for lunch at a local BBQ joint—and a taste for wearing his favorite old sweaters.

His government has been unable to accomplish much of what it set out to do. The bureaucrats have dug in their heels, and the country's elites hate his populist rhetoric and close ties to Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chávez. But Morales remains popular with his people. Although he will continue to find that delivering on his campaign promises is hard, his presence in the presidential palace will inspire indigenous people throughout Latin America.

dmarks said...

"his presence in the presidential palace will inspire indigenous people throughout Latin America."

Hopefully, to the point of "if a thug who is an Indian can get into power, why not a decent Indian?"

Anonymous said...

Could it be that ol Tim is upset because he was not named to the list. Of course he would know that to raise this point would look a little tacky, so he puts forth a couple of other names to undermine the selection process.

Here are a few other u.s natives who could be more influential than the ones Giago put forward. Adam Beach (celebrity), Sherman Alexie(author), Tom Cole(politician)and Angelina Jolie (u.s ambassador)-just joking about Jolie.

Rob said...

What exactly has Morales done that makes him a "thug," DMarks? Adopted left-wing policies that you don't approve of? ;-)

If I were choosing the most influential American Indians, I'd have to include Leonard Peltier. Other candidates might be activists such as Russell Means, Clyde Bellecourt, and Winona LaDuke and artists such as Chris Eyre, Sherman Alexie, and Adam Beach.

But again, I'd probably concentrate on government and business leaders. The BIA director, the heads of the largest tribes (the Navajo and the Cherokee), and the heads of the richest tribes (e.g., the Pequots and the Seminoles).

dmarks said...

Rob: Left wing polices are one thing (see Lula of Brazil, a left winger who is not a Stalinist thug or any kind of Stalinist or thug). Fascist power-grabs are another. Unless you happen to like single-party states, "presidents for life", concentrating all the resources of a nation in the hands of one man, close alliances with fascist dictators elsewhere in the region, beating up people who don't support the dictator, and things like that.

I am guessing, hoping, that you support decent, democratic leftism as per Lula (or even Obama) and not fascist dictators who quote Marx just to fool people.

Rob said...

Yes, I support decent, democratic leftism as per Lula (or even Obama) and not fascist dictators. What exactly does that have to do with Evo Morales?

I wasn't aware that Bolivia is a single-party state or that it has concentrated all its resources in the hands of one man. Or that Morales is a "president for life" who beats up people who don't support him.

Judging by your lack of specifics, you aren't aware of these things either. Instead, you're regurgitating US propaganda that any left-wing leader who stands up for his people must be a dictator and a thug.

FYI, someone can believe in Marx without being a dictator or a thug. Besides, you haven't provided any evidence that Morales is a Marxist, much less a Soviet- or Cuban-style Marxist.

Here are some articles on Morales's political views:

The sharp stratification of Bolivian society lends itself to class analysis, said Vice President Álvaro García Linera, who insisted that Marx remains relevant even to the discussion of indigenous movements (although he conceded Marx did not always champion oppressed native people). His talk is the first event in connection with the "Marx and Marxisms in Latin America" conference, Sept. 14-15, sponsored by Cornell's Diacritics magazine.

Indigenous Bolivians constitute about 60 percent of the population. Before native intellectual leadership emerged in the 1960s and '70s, there had been no dialogue between Amerindians and leftist intellectuals throughout the 20th century. A revived and updated Marxist theory, applied with historical and cultural sensitivity, García Linera suggested, will move Bolivia forward.

If President Bush and Osama Bin Laden have been a portrait of a struggle of fundamentalisms, we can conclude that today Bolivia provides an example of the struggle between the danger of the private sector that Antonio Pires mentions and the danger of national populism. Neither offers a way to the future.

But, in the last analysis, Evo Morales may be doing something different: not a move toward revamping national populism in Latin America, as the vox populi has it, but moving in a different direction: the de-colonization of the State and the de-colonization of the economy. Which means, working toward a political theory that is not contained in John Locke and in a political economy that is beyond Adam Smith and Karl Marx.

I have also met a handful of people who are against the indigenous president for racist reasons. Others oppose the government for ideological reasons and advocate continued neoliberal policies. Within this oppositional group is the occasional critique that Evo Morales isn't governing for Bolivians, he is just following orders from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro of Cuba. This is not true. The route that the current government is taking in the management of natural resources, the re-writing of the constitution, and other issues has been established by popular demands from the Bolivian people.

dmarks said...

"Instead, you're regurgitating US propaganda that any left-wing leader who stands up for his people must be a dictator and a thug."

"Propaganda" meaning information you happen to not like? Actually, I am not aware of State Department memos about him. He is a dictator and a thug, however, not because he supports left-wing ideology, but because he holds democracy in contempt, hates Jews (what good can from from antisemitism?) allies himself with dictators and thugs (Chavez and the Castro brothers), and has employed thuggish coercion against political opponents.

I also turned up Morales' national ID program card that forced Jews to carry a card that has a Star of David on it. I'm not sure this has been done anywhere since 1930s and 1940s Germany?

I mention Lula and Obama and how they are not thugs and dictators, again, to point out that your "you call Morales a thug just because he is left wing" attack is fallacious.

Rob said...

No, "propaganda" means political opinions you haven't justified with facts or evidence.

"Holds democracy in contempt"..."hates Jews"..."has employed thuggish coercion against political opponents"...I don't see the evidence for any of these charges. Hence I (continue to) call them propaganda.

As for allying himself with Castro and Chavez, I'll concede Morales has done that. But I won't concede that makes him a dictator and a thug also. That's called guilt by association and it's not logically valid.

Let's put it this way: Ronald Reagan allied America with right-wing dictators and thugs such as Marcos, Pinochet, and Botha. When you concede that Reagan was a dictator and a thug, I'll concede that Morales is one. If one is guilty of thuggery by association, so is the other.

Rob said...

As for the national ID cards, you appear to have misstated the case. Unless there have been some developments since April, the cards aren't just for Jews. Here's the most recent report I could find:

Tiny six-pointed stars within a tight circle are printed on the back side of some, but not all, recently issued picture IDs in the Santa Cruz region. The mark was present on three cards seen by The Washington Times.

"It raises suspicions that the government is identifying individuals or segments of the population along racial, religious or ideological lines" said Carlos Klinsky, a member of Bolivia's parliament from Santa Cruz, where the new ID cards have recently appeared.

What puzzles Mr. Klinsky and others is that the marked ID cards do not appear to target people who are Jewish or have Jewish ancestry.