Sunday, May 06, 2018


Social Capital
At Risk Historical Communities
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            The majority of the outdoor channel programs come up short.
            There is still something troubling about two big fellows all camouflaged up doing belly bumps after killing something. It certainly does little for the sanctity of hunting, and it may sooner or later come home to haunt this historic pursuit. There emerges one program, however, that has caught some fancy and credibility.
            Jim Shockey’s Uncharted is visually and philosophically appealing. It is well produced. Hey, if you want to spend money in a real wilderness, mimic the actions of Jim. His first year of production has placed him in the midst of head hunters, drug cartels, snakes, crocodiles, surfaced ice bergs and unaltered iron curtains.
 Two things really stand out. The first is his skill to capture on film the essence of a hunt and outdoor relationship. Others find that to be extremely difficult if not impossible to do. The second is Jim’s assessment of endemic historical hunting groups. One example was the installment done with the Inuits, the extended group of culturally similar people inhabiting the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.
            He offered sincere concern that their unique lifestyle was in imminent danger. He saw first hand how tempered societies are hugely at risk when exposed to the greater world of unmitigated influences and control. What Mr. Shockey may learn, and what some of us know all too well, is that similar circumstances are much closer to home than anybody realizes.
            Social Capital
            Concurrent with the first season of Uncharted, the newest national Social Capital index has been posted. I must say I have had a hard time understanding the full implications of this measurement and didn’t really care until some degree of enlightenment was found in the explanations of Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).
            Senator Lee stresses that human beings ultimately need a close community for the creation and the continuity of a way of life. He asserts that connections inherent in a close community can be measured. This result constitutes the matter of social capital.
That capital is every bit as precious as money, and, in fact, it is more precious. It is hugely important to the individual. It is equally important to the community.
            As we are learning in the matter of unequal states within our union, social capital is not spread uniformly among the states. As one has come to expect, my home state, New Mexico, can be counted on to be at the bottom of the social capital ladder when arrayed against the other states.
            It is 49th for overall ranking (another state dominated by government ownership of land, Nevada was scored at 50th). It is 48th when family units are scored, and it is in the pit of darkness at 51st (District of Columbia was scored and arrayed with states) when Institutional health is considered.
            What does this mean?
There is a high correlation of prosperity, opportunities, and distressed communities when analyzed alongside social capital. Where social capital measures are higher there are more opportunities.
States that score low don’t provide the same opportunities. With lower prosperity, communities are often fractured. Independence and productivity also struggle and are always reduced.
Senator Lee concludes his discussion by identifying a key element of social capital that would likely never appear in the list of the top five factors named by anybody reviewing the whole exercise. It isn’t money, it isn’t a social program, and it isn’t education that the Cause Baiters are crying foul over.
It is the simple matter of … TRUST.
            Trust is a characteristic intrinsic to any good relationship. Perhaps in all circumstances, it is most important.
            The realization is as staggering as it is simplistic. Accounts of debate in congress regarding the matter of statehood for New Mexico was contentious. There were many easterners who didn’t like the idea of welcoming the paisanos of New Mexico Territory to the Union. There was so much worry about the assumed inability of the folks to educate themselves, Sections 2, 16, 32, and 36 (more in areas aside from northeastern New Mexico) of each township were deeded to the state for the purpose of generating money to educate the lowly commoners.
            The problem is too many points of measure suggest things have never changed. Success has continued to lag. There is also something else. There has always been an agent deciding what is best for the citizenry and their private property is a continuing target of bias. From day one there was never equal treatment as compared to the original states. The comparison is extreme. There are areas where government owns or controls 100% of the landscape (ask a Navajo who owns his homeland).
            Free and independent Americans here have always faced conditions of qualification. The matter of trust was always incomplete, and there are implications. Listen closely to New Mexicans and attempt to detect a fundamental spirit of statehood patriotism. It doesn’t exist.
            Indeed, there is love for the land because it is special. It is home, but there has never been full stewardship of our destiny. I suspect that is the same dilemma that Mr. Shockey saw in his brush with the Inuit. What that society faces, though, isn’t unique. It applies equally to livestock producers in the West and all extractive industries in New Mexico and states scoring lowest on the social capital index.
            We are all at risk. We are in the same predicament.
            We are ruled by committee action, measured by the weight of public comments, and buffeted by political fiefdoms. We are too few to tip any scale and there is no fundamental mechanism to protect our culture. As a subset of society, we find ourselves in the exact position the small states feared at the onset.
Without equal and reliable partners, trust is always fleeting, but that is our story and our condition.

Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Ouch!”

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