When one of us is wrong

I hate disagreeing with people, and I wish it didn’t have to be that way. Really, a disagreement ought to be kind of exciting, like a mystery. As in, we have two different perspectives here, let’s see if we can get to the bottom of this. Let’s more closely examine the evidence, or even search for additional evidence.

People disagree about things for different reasons. Maybe two parties are basing their positions on separate sets of evidence that seem to indicate different outcomes or conclusions. In addition, there could be different circumstances involved too. For example, consider the argument: “Drinking beer is a bad idea.” It cannot be denied, that for certain individuals under certain circumstances, this is probably a true statement. But for others, it is not true at all.

This is one of the kinds of arguments we see in politics a lot. Two parties are looking at different sets of evidence, and are considering outcomes on different populations who have different needs and preferences. Nobody wants his or her taxes to be raised, or a massive construction in his or her back yard, or a mandate that might threaten a tradition.

That’s where the investigative work begins. Disagreeing parties have to examine the evidence, and consider the short and long term impact not just on their own family and community, but on other communities and the greater surroundings as well.

Here’s where a perfectly good mystery can get snagged, though, and things can get ugly. Somebody throws an erroneous assumption, not based on any evidence whatsoever, into the mix.

Last week I heard the interesting news that a Maine high school dropped its long-time mascot, “Indian.” I was not privy to the debate that led to this decision, but I do understand that the term ‘Indian’ is outdated and disrespectful to entire populations of Mainers whose ancestors have inhabited land in Maine for centuries. The idea that a team mascot, typically an animal but not always (my New Hampshire high school’s mascot was the Greenwave, which brings to mind algae), would claim its identity from a race or ethnicity not even dominantly represented in the community seems especially harsh.

Now there may have been some solid arguments in opposition to dropping the name, but one of these arguments I heard on MPBN Friday morning fell in the category of erroneous and problematic.

What will happen next, the person asked aloud, will they have to change the name of our town?

The town name comes from the area’s original Abenaki name. Mind you, this is not the same thing as naming the town’s mascot, “The Indians.” Not even close. A town named for a Native group or a town that maintains its original Abenaki name is the opposite of disrespectful. Nobody is being disrespected when a town maintains its Abenaki name.

To the contrary, all of Maine’s indigenous people are disrespected when a town names its high school sports teams “The Indians.”

I was glad to hear that this particular community solved the mystery of which argument claimed the most evidence for validity. To me, this one is a no brainer, but then again, I did not hear any of the evidence-based arguments in opposition to the decision, of which there may have been some. I only heard the erroneous assumption. Hopefully the debates that led to the conclusion were respectful and engaging.

James Tatum Gale

About James Tatum Gale

I have been a teacher in Maine schools for twelve years, and a writer and musician since childhood. I acquired a Master's degree in Teaching from USM, and a Certificate in Math Leadership from UMF. My undergraduate degree is in Philosophy with a concentration in Comparative Religion from the University of Maine (1994). I live with my wife, Erin, and my dog, Sally, in Bowdoinham.