GUEST POST: Who Do We Think We Are?

By Justin Robbins

Robbins is a frequent contributor to the Cowgirl Blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinRobbins15

This question is typically posed as more of a rhetorical declaration by someone who already has a pretty firm idea of who they think we are.  It carries, at least in my humble experience, an implication that I, in fact, may not be that humble after all.  That, in some way, I have made an assumption or taken a liberty that is outside the scope of the whatever standing I may hold in the relationship in question.

This particular collection of words, however, might also cause us to examine more complicated issues in less common areas of debate.  The dilemma of our ethical and moral obligations as members of the human race as they apply, for example, to the Syrian refugee crisis.

A quick perusal of your social media hangouts will likely show that opinions vary greatly…both of them.  Like so much of our national discourse, this issue has been politicized and polarized; with very little attention paid to the many nuances and intricacies inherent in such a question. You are either ushering terrorists into our homes, or a heartless xenophobe, handing a victory to the terrorists by virtue of your own personal terror. For more colorful descriptions of these perspectives, take a scroll through the comments on Governor Bullock’s Facebook post for the upcoming Cat/Griz game.

So, in an effort to see the issue more clearly, I propose a thought experiment. Let us strip away all our biases, be they based in political leanings, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preferences or what have you.  For this exercise, shake loose of it all.  There is room only for a single disparity; you may keep the bias of your origin. Whether you believe our universal common ancestor to be a 3.8 billion year old string of amino acids, or a 6,000 year old guy named Adam, we are all, in the final analysis, human.

As such, it has been argued we possess certain, self-evident, unalienable rights. These have been articulated a number of times throughout history, but perhaps never better stated nor more forcefully claimed than in the founding documents of this country. Strong arguments can yet be fielded that these documents were not perfect; they certainly did not contemplate the equality of women, Native Americans, nor African Americans. However, I would argue they remain unmatched in principle and fundamental moral intent. We human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.

It would be nice if that fact alone were enough.

Instead, despite our undeniable niche at the top of the food chain, or perhaps because of it, we struggle mightily. We divide ourselves tribally using the biases which I trust you, the reader, still continue to resist. We strive for wealth and power regardless of, or perhaps again because of our unique and terrible understanding of our own mortality. Finally, our innate yet contradictory needs for both independence and community seem locked in perpetual battle for control of our nature; or the better angels thereof.

Then we see a 3 year old boy washed up dead on the shore of the sea to which his family fled, betting likely death against its certainty.  Anyone who’s ever had a child, or been one, can’t help but have a visceral reaction to such a scene.  This boy was not a threat.  He was not a jihadi, not a terrorist of any stripe; not even a Christie orphan sleeper cell.  He was a refugee; “a person who flees for safety, as in a time of war.”  He was a human being.

That’s it. Experiment complete. You may embrace again your biases.  Embrace again the pure chance of the place and time and ethnicity of your birth, and embrace again whatever ideas you have about how and why your creator may decide to circumvent the inevitable finality of your death.  Cling tightly to whatever ledgers, or trinkets or stories you feel entitle you to a better circumstance.  Embrace again the terror you think will keep you safe.  Get your family in the bunker and seal it with your flag.

If you need me, I’ll be standing out in the open next to the people with the courage, conscience, compassion and character to offer shelter and safety to those less fortunate than are we.  I know I will be in good company because whoever stands up to the bullies, whatever the cost, has already won. You may disagree. It’s a free country. But, that’s who I think we are.



40 Comments on "GUEST POST: Who Do We Think We Are?"

  1. Another Cowgirl FPer in search of an editor. If there’s a thesis somewhere in these ten paragraphs of turgid prose and dependent clauses, I can’t find it.

    Maybe the photo of a drowned child was chosen as the post’s featured image for its shock value, but the same point could have been made with a photo of a living refugee child or family. Again, an editor might have reminded you about context, proportion, and taste when it comes to choosing appropriate images for publication.

    Also, posting images without credit to the original source (Reuters, in this case) is lazy and unethical.

    • Speaking of literary non-accomplishments,
      that comment was indeed a criticism,
      but far from being a critique!

      Clearly, Justin’s two recent Posts present
      a unique style and subject matter,
      while asking the reader to participate,
      maybe take a few steps forward.

      Because that does not work for what’s left of me,
      does not mean i have any right/desire to discredit
      how the Post works for others!

      But it’s odd. Justin, your recent thought experiment Post means more to me after
      reading/watching this:

    • If all you can find to complain about is, “Justin needs an editor,” than you have missed the point completely.

      If 30 Americans drowned in New York Harbour, it would be a national tragedy. But when 30 or more refugees drown off the European coast, it is a political question for the GOP, and editorial review?

      Someones American Priorities don’t seem right here. and I don’t think it is Justin.

      Nice work Justin, and I am with you.

    • It was a thoughtful post, Justin. Thank you.

  2. Now the Trumpster wants all Muslims to REGISTER in the USA ‘or else’? Really Donald? Remember the Star of David insignia the Nazis forced on German CITIZENS? Being from Queens ‘dumb Donald’ should KNOW about the Holocaust since Trump is so ‘bright’ and should know THOUSANDS of fellow New Yorkers who survived the death camps. Is there NO shame and Montana had it’s disgusting episode during World War I with the Sedition Acts targeting GERMANS, German-Americans and their businesses, etc….SHAME!

    • you forget the Trumpster’s daddy was in the KKK? He was brought up to think the only place Hitler went wrong was in not developing the atom bomb sooner than we did. It really breaks this veteran’s heart to see what is happening to the Constitution and the Nation I gave so much to defend.

  3. Beautifully written. Well done.

  4. I am becoming increasingly concerned about some of the components of the Muslim faith, that lead me to believe that most Muslims have more allegiance to their faith than they do towards anything else, including the country in which they are residing. I have a problem with that. I’m also concerned with the Muslim attitude both towards infidels, and Sharia law.

    Even non-violent Muslims will need to be monitored by security agencies, at a cost to taxpayers.

    I prefer to play it safe, and to discourage adding Muslims to our population. We can’t fix all the worlds problems.

    • that is the most un-American thing said on this page. It is provably Christians who commit most terrorism in America-maybe we should discourage them from moving to Montana? I’m in if you just mean Mormons or Scientologists or, well heck, anybody except pantheists and maybe a few Methodists…

      • “It is provably Christians who commit most terrorism in America”
        Wow! This is news to me. Can you provide a valid link to back up this claim?

          • The link is to the FBI crime statistics web site. Maybe I’m missing something but there is nothing there to support your claim that Christians commit most terrorism in America.

              • Twice as many right wing attacks in this country since 9/11 than Jihadists. almost all right wing attacks are by christians.


                All this information is easily available online if you really want to look. the problem is even if we search it out for you, and use NSA and FBI studies most Conservatives won’t believe it anyway. Doesn’t fit in the perceived fear cortex. Democrats tend to be afraid of crime, pollution, and man-made disasters. Republicans tend to be afraid of today’s youth, the government, and immigrants.

                • BTW, Thank you Norma. I am curious-are you going to be running for a seat in our legislature? Forgive me if you already have and I missed it but I just believe we could use a lot more voices like yours in Helena. I remember when Montana was a Democratic state and supported our Unions and protected our public lands nationwide. Now we only seem to barely keep the Fascists and Robber Barons in check, let alone undo the damage they have already done. If you do decide to run let me know and I’ll send a few $$ and work the phone for you. Since I live on under $1K/month emphasis on the few…

                  • So far I believe I am. with Jeff Running for Debbie’s seat, I will be running for his. the only caveat is I will be running as an Independent because there are still some moderate Eisenhower type Republicans out there with good Ideas and intentions I want to help. And it will make it easier for republicans sick of the conservatives to vote for someone without a D behind their name.

            • I suggest Criminal Science 101 and a bit of remedial math if you are having trouble reading them. While we are unable to track gun violence due to NRA control of our politicians we do a good job of tracking terrorism and hate groups. You might also want to check out these guys for more info on our home-grown Christian terrorist movements- They are an excellent resource for students of sociology or criminal science.

  5. I have to assume that there are many who reside in Montana who may hold allegiance to their faith more highly than their national allegiance. Are some religions OK and others not?

  6. I’ll go with the wisdom and morality instilled by my Mother. Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. If America can no longer open our hearts to properly vetted refugees in need of peace and security, than America deserves no pity or sympathy from any else if we should find ourselves in need of refuge and help.

  7. Can somebody please explain the difference between “Sharia Law” and “according to Judeo-Christian Beliefs” ? Because it looks to me like the difference between hot dogs and frankfurters…Seriously, we really only need one Law-treat others like you would like to be treated.


    Our northern neighbors have a better idea.
    Of course Americans did the same during the Southeast Asia refugee crisis after the fall of Saigon, when Americans who did care — often true Christian churches — sponsored families, got them settled, found them jobs and offered friendship through troubling times. The assimilation to a new society worked as well as could be expected among the refugee’s kids, and now their kids.
    We did not dump them into urban ghettos to fester as the European nations have done with Mideast refugees in more recent years.
    It would be much tougher now in the U.S., since prejudice and hate seems to have taken over our nation, as polling results indicate, and many of us want to cower in fear instead of being Americans.

  9. For those who have compassion, but can do only a little:

    Compassion is the only way to inoculate against fear.

  10. Today, 55 of Montana’s biggest bigots and racists penned a letter to the Gov trying to prevent Syrians from relocation to Montana. Be sure and spend some time looking at the last names of these assholes and wonder just how many of them got into this country and state as immigrants in the past. I fully remember my family stories about getting to America several generations ago and having the authorities telling my great great grandparents to change their last name as it would sound more American.
    Guess we’d better reopen Heart Mountain and other such fine retreats for those prospective five year old terrorists and old ladies.
    Legislators who signed the letter:

    Senate President Debby Barrett, R-Dillon; Sen. Duane Ankney, R-Colstrip; Sen. Elsie Arntzen, R-Billings; Sen. Mark Blasdel, R-Kalispell; Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey; Sen. Dee Brown, R-Hungry Horse; Sen. Taylor Brown, R-Huntley; Sen. Ed Buttrey, R-Great Falls; Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton; Sen. Kristin Hansen, R-Havre; Sen. Jedediah Hinkle, R-Bozeman; Sen. David Howard, R-Park City; Sen Llew Jones, R-Conrad; Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings; Sen. Bob Keenan, R-Bigfork; Sen. Rick Ripley, R-Wolf Creek; Sen. Matt Rosendale, R-Glendive; Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman; Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings; Sen. Nels Swandal, R-Wilsall; Sen. Janna Taylor, R-Dayton; Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell; Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings and Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls.

    House Speaker Austin Knudsen, D-Culbertson; Rep. Nancy Ballance, R-Hamilton; Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell; Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka; Rep. Alan Doane, R-Bloomfield; Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton; Rep. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings; Rep. Frank garner, R-Kalispell; Rep. Carl Glimm, R-Kila; Rep. Ed Greef, R-Florence; Rep. Dave Hagstrom, R-Billings; Rep. Greg Hertz, R-Polson; Rep. Mike Lang, R-Malta; Rep. Sarah Laszloffy, R-Billings; Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Darby; Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls; Rep. Bruce Meyers, R-Box Elder; Rep. Mike Miller, R-Helmville; Rep. Matthew Monforton; R-Bozeman; Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell; Rep. Vince Ricci, R-Laurel; Rep. Dan Salomon, R-Ronan; Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, R-Superior; Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula; Rep. Jeffrey Welborn, R-Deer Lodge; Rep. Kerry White, R-Bozeman; Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman; Rep. Daniel Zolnikov; Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Billings; and Rep. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell.

    • That’s a damn shame that both of our representatives sign on for Beaverhead county. Most of these refugees were at one time farmers in syria before the country lost a majority of their water supplies in the north forcing people into the cities. these people are first and foremost Climate change or what you would call environmental Refugees. what a boom they would be for our area, a teachable moment where they could show us all how they farmed successfully with limited water supplies.

      We all know that the GOP will steal away all our water for industry, and that will poison whats left with the runoff back to our critical farming and drinkable water supplies. That’s what happened to them!

      Glad Tester is on the side of scientists and Ranchers and farmers in Montana. we still have his one lone voice of reason. to keep us Americans strong and not so fearful.

    • Every one of them are Troglodyte Cowards!! Almost everything they ever do is motivated by fear and fear alone. History will not be kind to any of them. Montana deserves brave compassionate legislators not a bunch of Chicken Littles…

    • These 55 bozos need to look out the window right now. People who live on a diet of dates and olive oil are not going to want to relocate to Montana.

  11. I can’t help but think this wave of refugees is critically different from past diaspora.
    You don’t hear of Somali or Hmong or Vietnamese refugees conducting terror operations. Nor does it seem their home territory being a base for terrorist training for overseas operations. Never heard of a Somali terror cell, a Hmong terror cell, Vietnamese terror cells.
    There is something fundamentally different here that makes me think our acceptance will be rejected where it matters most — in the hearts and minds of these refugees, they’ll never be truly American, because that’s not what they seek.

    • That’s BS we have been accepting Syrians for years now and they have adjusted quite well in the US. No different than Saudis or Iraqis. No different than people from Turkey or Malaysian Muslims. I find this rejection of Syrian refugees totally un-American and proof that fascism is existing in our country and the death of democracy and republic Ideas is right around the corner from death in this country with these extremist conservatives

      Do we continue to allow these extremists places of office in the United States? As a believer of the constitution in our Country I say NO!!!

    • Go to Google and enter “Somali terrorist Minnesota” and let the fun begin.

      • Okay, Moose, forget the Somalis.
        As for Syrians, if I remember right, Flathead County sheriff Chuck Curry is of Syrian heritage. We basically grew up together for three or so years. His Dad, also Chuck, worked at the radar base in Lakeside while my Dad was stationed there.
        Fully assimilated, fully American in every sense.
        But the Curry line came over a long time ago from a different Syria.

    • The only difference I see dave is the extremists are killing there own people now. NO different than when extremists attacked Christians in Syria in the 1950’s although today the Extremists target anyone who they believe talk to westerners i.e. anyone not a 7th century abiding Muslim. Bush created these throwbacks.

      You would think at least conservatives would want to counter their mistakes with compassion as they did the Iraqi Refugees. But oh no while extremism grew under Bushes actions, so did the callousness of conservative hearts in America to anything that might smack of diversity….

  12. Maybe the Democrats in the state legislature could write a rebutting letter to the governor talking about accepting more refugees? Or at least approving of Bullock’s flawed, but politically safe, policy decision? What say you leaders of the party? I find the silence from party leadership to have created a bit of a vacuum and leaves me wondering where many people actually stand on this.

    • Or even find a way to craft a bi-partisan letter co-written with the likes of Rep. Steve Fitzpatrick, Rep. Gerry Custer, now-retired Rep. Christy Clark, or the few others who did not sign this for whatever purpose. And a shame tothe other so-called moderates for joining with the other front, especially Rep. Wellborn.

  13. Over 250,000 Syrians have come to live in our country since the 1950’s. Paula Abdul’s parents are Syrian, the crooner Paul Anka is of Syrian descent Even Jerry Seinfeld parents are jewish Syrians. This minority in America has Higher educational standards than the Average American, and nowhere close to the divorce rate of the average Americans. They rarely get into any trouble…. and yet some white American Jerks find them Offensive. I Believe this group of People would make Republicans look even worse, when it came to becoming and then being real Americans. Lastly the majority of them become Democrats….. thats right the other reason the GOP don’t like Syrians is because they favor democracy greatly.

    They will never look at the facts and try like some have of pointing to other Muslims like Somalis who are nowhere near Syrians to make a worthless point.

  14. “Somali terrorist Minnesota”

    Yes, and we are discussing Syrians.

  15. I wasn’t surprised that Debby Barrett signed the letter. She’s an extreme right-winger. But Welborn should-ve known better.

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