“Complicit brutes, dumb brutes. I sit at my computer and imagine
you, my reader. You have never seen a clearcut, or if you have, you
were a tourist. Regardless of what you think about the timber industry, you believe loggers are butchers, maybe even murderers. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying. Maybe your people are coal miners or oil drillers. Maybe you’re a logger or fisherman. Or maybe, like me, you grew up among them. If so, you will understand my
need to talk about complicity and stupidity, although our understandings may differ dramatically.” (Clare 55)
I really loved this passage from Eli Clare’s Exile and Prejudice. One of my key takeaways from Clare’s writings is how well he breaks down different perspectives, especially that of perception of peoples and the “clearcut: brutes and bumper stickers chapter” is a great example of his ability to see things alternatively.
The chapter begins with Clare recounting the story of loggers who felt threatened by environmental activists, particularly the radical activist group Earth First!, where an article describe the loggers as “Neanderthal thugs” and no better than the Ku Klux Klan. Clare’s response to this is as follows:
“To clearly and accurately report unjust, excessive, and frightening violence is one thing; to portray a group of
people as dumb brutes is another” (Clare 52). Clare makes a powerful statement here on how we understand class structure in society. The general assumption being made are that the loggers are uneducated folk, who are actively harming the environment by their profession and being, and their retaliation of feeling threatened is blown up to a point where it is described as violence by a group fundamentally opposed to them. Clare however, in the original quote that I’ve brought in continues to further ponder what this dichotomy implies. He emphasizes the word ‘oversimplifying’, claiming there is more to what meets the eye. Clare goes on to recount a few stories to prove this, including one about Jim the timber cruiser turned environmentalist, and this passage accurately presents how nuanced identities can be:
“Is Jim the dumb brute you expect a logger to be? Probably not, but you don’t like the ambiguity. Or maybe you’re feeling tricked. Did you expect a story about a working-class redneck, a faller or choker setter, a bucker or truck driver, or maybe the man who pulls green chain — pulling the fresh-cut lumber off the saw — at the mill?” (Clare 56)
Clare is not afraid to embrace the nuanced complex worldview, and is not afraid to take a stance here some might find controversial. He is humanitarian in that aspect, willing to give benefit of doubt to people who might be seen as wrong to others. Some of these included people in his own hometown, and his ability to show compassion and empathy makes him a strong person, and it drives a larger theme in the book of acceptance and how complex identity can be.