~Tom Campbell from his My Big TOE (theory of everything) Trilogy pg.131
I realize that this theory I'm putting forth regarding Fort Smith having an active and detrimental "fort belief system" aka "fort mentality," buried in the subconscious of its collective mind, is very likely to be interpreted by many as being far-fetched (I'm probably being conservative with the use of that adjective) and that is certainly understandable and definitely expected. In trying to explain or make sense out of this theory I am reminded of a business card that was given to me many years ago by a good friend of mine...
It was in the early 80's. I was living in the Pacific Northwest and visiting family and friends in Fort Smith. One day I went with my friend to the Fort Smith livestock sale barn (the one across the Garrison Bridge on the right). My friend, a cattle rancher, was, on this particular day, also wearing the hat of a cattle buyer for other ranchers. While we were watching cattle being sold that he had no interest in, he handed me his business card and told me to look on the back. When I turned the card over what I saw was what appeared to be a framed ink blot with a caption that read..."Find the cow, this is no bull." I asked my friend what this was about. He told me it was a brain teaser. Well, my brain was teased. I sure didn't see any cow there! All I could see was an ink blot. But with enthusiasm I proceeded to try and turn the ink blot I was seeing into a picture of a cow. After repetitive failures at doing so my enthusiasm eroded down to antagonism and I was just about to go "sour grapes" when I gave up and asked my friend to show me this damn cow! Slowly, he pointed out the ears, the head, the neck and so on and little by little the tenacious ink blot gave up its identity and transformed into the picture of a cow. It was a Charolais cow. Once I saw the cow I could not not see the cow.
Even though it is extremely worn and tattered, I still have my friend's business card that he gave me that day. In fact, I just went and dug it out and had a look at it. Yep, there, plain as day, is that damn cow. There's not an ink blot in sight. Over the years I have used this card many, many times to demonstrate to people that just because you can't see something doesn't mean the 'something' isn't there. Again and again, as I observed people trying to "find the cow," I watched the process with fascination as person after person went from an attitude of playful enthusiasm quickly down into antagonism as they struggled unsuccessfully to find the cow, and then, even more rapidly (if I didn't interject with an explanation), down to "sour grapes." It was the same same sequence of emotions that I had gone through when I couldn't find the cow. Very interesting! FYI: Out of all the people I showed the card to through the years, there was only one person who instantly saw the cow. This guy was an incredibly astute business consultant as well as a highly accomplished martial artist.
Personally, now that I see the "fort belief system" in Fort Smith's subconscious mind, I cannot not see it. So I guess what I am attempting to do now through my blog posts is do what my friend did for me with his card i.e., take what I was perceiving to be an "ink blot" and point out the ears, head, neck and so on to bring the "ink blot" into focus as being a picture of a cow. However, pointing out a city's unseen belief system in a way where others can come to recognize it the way I recognize it, is proving to be more than a little challenging for me. Indeed, I doubt that I have the communication or writing skills to pull it off but I'm giving it a shot anyway. As we all know...nothing ventured nothing gained (a version of a saying tracing back to Chaucer circa 1374).
"We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we began and know the place for the very first time." ~ TS Eliot.
I've mentioned this before but I'm bringing it up again...the mindset of Fort Smith is frequently mentioned in various writings that appear on TCW and it is often acknowledged and recognized as being an obstacle that needs to be changed. However, from what I've seen and read, that mindset is never thoroughly described. That noted, I'm going to attempt, in my way, to describe what I see and understand to be the extant, prevalent and dominating mindset of Fort Smith. Yes, there are other mindsets that exist in the city and struggle to emerge and be heard yet they are again and again effectively blocked by an unseen force that is, what I suspect to be, the dominant mindset of the city.
The prevailing and dominant mindset of the city of Fort Smith is an out of place and inappropriate mindset. It is a mindset of defense and force (more force than reason). This was the mindset it was conceived in. This is a "fort mentality." Fort Smith began as a military fort and forts come into existence in order to defend against a perceived threat. Forts are not about diplomacy, they are about a show of force. A fort's primary purpose is to hold something in place i.e. keep it from going away. A fort's use as a military fort is finite (military forts come and go) and some, like Fort Smith, transition and transform into cities and keep their fort name. As a fort transitions and transforms into a city the purpose and mindset should also transition and transform from one peculiar to a fort to one peculiar to a city. But...what if, for whatever the reason, that doesn't happen? What if the the fort mentality remains, unknowingly, engaged and active as the city emerges out of the fort?
Imagine what would happen if, during its metamorphosis, the purpose and mindset of the caterpillar did not transform into the purpose and mindset of the butterfly it is becoming? What if, after its metamorphosis was complete, the behavior of the butterfly was, unknowingly to the butterfly, being dictated by the instincts of a caterpillar? In other words, even though the caterpillar only exist as a past memory (it's physical form is long gone), its instincts live on as a subconscious program in the butterfly and are in continuous conflict with the much weaker butterfly instincts. Personally, I don't think this set of circumstances would make for a very successful butterfly. Indeed, that butterfly would, I expect, have one helluva time making it unless, of course, it could somehow manage to overcome the forceful and compelling influence of the unseen caterpillar instincts. Which, seems to me, in order to do this, the butterfly would have to first become cognizant that it was being continually usurped by the instincts of its former self i.e., its caterpillar self.
I see the city of Fort Smith doing its best to hold something in place and keep it from going away. Yep, I see it still being an active fort but defending against ghosts long gone (imagined threats) that it is superimposing over the very things that would facilitate it into becoming and eventually being the evolving, flourishing, prospering and modern city it truly wants to be. Now...what do you suppose the 'something' is that it's holding in place and in what ways is it keeping the 'something' from going away?
More exploring to be done in the next installment.