The title should be something fundamental; understood, appreciated and upheld by everyone. That’s because the statement stems from America’s much-touted, storied past, when the written rule of law was practically non-existent, yet there nevertheless was a tangible, un-written code of conduct that those rugged early citizens attempted to live by.
This code came about not through happenstance but rather because of the nature of the human condition, man versus man. It was his earliest attempts to control his baser instincts, drives and natures that surely would’ve rode us to extinction by now, had it not been for the code. Today, it’s heralded mostly in pulp fiction and lore but truly, it still exists, or should exist, in the psyche of modern-day man. I’m talking about the code of the west.
Consider the American cowboy, legendary real-life action hero. Even today, decades after man first walked on the moon, we still value their lasting imprint on society. When children, we play them and want to be them. And when a man or woman goes their own way in society, against the grain of the customary, they’re called a “maverick”, a nod to the unbranded cow or calf found on the range. But nothing speaks to the cowboy way of life more than conservatism and the existing gun culture. At least, they would like to think so and for us to believe it so.
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Newly appointed DOI secretary Ryan Zinke arrived for his first day on the job atop a steed. Think how comfortable some conservatives are in trotting out the imagery of the American west as a political tool. It’s their attempt to show they’re straight-shooters and thoroughly above board in all their dealings. The vision is usually accomplished with them sporting a bona-fide Stetson of some configuration all the while riding atop a bona-fide horse; if it’s white, all the better. The problem is sometimes, these same men advocating a return to a more straight-forward and moral period, are lagging woefully behind by even today’s standards.
Roy Moore, accused by multiple women of inappropriate sexual contact while they were minors, rode to his Alabama special election on a brown and white pony called Sassy.
Conservatives quip that Americans are becoming lazy and have forgotten how to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”, yet another cowboy reference. Ever intent on returning us to those days, they’ve forgotten the ever-present and necessary code. Like the Magna Carta before it, the code shaped our laws and catechisms. Some of the tenets of the code will surprise you in their modern appropriateness:
- Live by the Golden Rule
- “The rattlesnake code” – never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy
- Don’t make a threat without expecting dire consequences
- Respect the land and the environment
- Be hospitable, always help someone in need, even an enemy
- Honesty is absolute – your word is your bond
I’m not staking out any new ground here. The code of the west has already been modernized and paralleled for today’s business environment. In his book, Cowboy Ethics-What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, Jim Owens created ten principles to live by based on the western code.
Still, I prefer the original, whose content modern man gleamed form the writing of Zane Grey. I like its directness, laying out your behavior as well as your expectations of behavior of those around you. Also, it was assumed to be for everyone and not just for some. All cowboys lived by it; if not, you were ostracized.
Above all, it was fair in nature; giving equal pardon to both friend and foe. Yet, as today’s conservatives seek to embrace the principles of this earlier time, enacting laws they feel protect citizens by giving them the means to protect themselves, the fairness aspect is longer be present.
Their version of the code exists for some while not for others. Stand Your Ground laws are unfair in their nature as well as in their implementation. And while conservatives would like to see themselves as a new incarnation of the past, the truth is cowboys would’ve had no part of such an unfair law. It’s un-American to think otherwise.