Friday, July 5, 2013

DC Diary: American Indian museum celebrates diversity and creativity

I visited the wonderful Museum of the American Indian on the Mall last Monday. This museum does not concentrate on the history of the American Indian, though the American people should definitely learn more about that. Instead, it concentrates on present-day American Indians and their vibrant culture.

I particularly like the art of the Northwest Coast tribes. These indigenous people lived along the Pacific coast of America from the California border to Alaska. They are noted for their totem poles, which feature elaborate stylized figures of animals and humans. Their style is unique and instantly recognizable.

The store at the Museum is stuffed with beautiful and unusual merchandise. I noticed two neckties with beautiful Tlingit designs on them. I considered buying one for a few moments, but then realized that I couldn't wear them at work in DC. Then I began to wonder why.

America is filled with different cultures. Tlingit art is attractive, but so is Navajo pottery from the Southwest. Mexico has a large number of distinct cultures, each with its own style of art and manner of dress. Yet when you walk about DC on a weekday, all you will see is dark suits and plain ties.

I come from California, where I worked for years in the computer industry. The required uniform there is informal, depending on the company, but sometimes nothing more than shorts and a tee-shirt. The engineers there have dressed like that for decades.

About 1981, an employee from IBM arrived at Microsoft's office in Redmond to inquire about buying an operating system for a new desktop computer. He was met at the door by a young man in a sweater. He assumed the man was the office boy, but he was wrong. The man was Bill Gates, not yet a household name, but already the head of Microsoft. In Silicon Valley today, if you are talking to a man in a suit, you can assume he doesn't know anything about the product.

Many managers in DC require their employees to wear expensive, uncomfortable clothes. They expect women to wear high-heeled shoes, although everyone knows that style of shoe causes degenerative arthritis and other painful conditions. Many women wear athletic shoes during their commute and carry their high-heeled shoes in a bag.

Men employed in DC likewise must wear heavy leather shoes, tight collars and tight neckties. Boring neckties.

America has been successful because of its diversity. Freedom of thought produces innovations in science and industry. Rigid and conformist thinking brings stagnation and regression.

America after World War II was a forward-looking country with great energy and a belief in itself. President Truman installed the Marshall plan, an innovative policy that brought Europe from starvation to prosperity in just five years. The Marshall plan was unique in history because it gave loans to nations that America had just defeated in war.

President Eisenhower championed the interstate highway system, which was begun in 1956 with $25 billion in federal funding, equivalent to $214 billion in 2013 dollars. The interstate system eventually cost $450 billion and has been called the largest public works project since the pyramids.
John F. Kennedy proposed a space exploration plan in 1961 that would put a man on the moon within 10 years. The Apollo project cost $158 billion in 2013 dollars.

Today, there is no similar program. America is in the grip of a spiritual malaise. We do not believe in the ability of government to do anything positive, despite the unquestioned success enjoyed by each of the 3 projects mentioned above.

Americans do not believe in science, despite the accomplishments of the Space program and the enormous wealth created by the electronics and computer industries. Americans know that these things exist, but they seem ignorant of the fact that government created them with the assistance of the scientific community.

Americans today would never approve the Marshall plan, which gave American money to foreign governments, despite the fact that the plan led to a prosperous and peaceful Europe. Somehow we have lost the ability to see beyond the price of something and recognize its value.

In line with America's failure of vision, our government employees must all wear the same fashions (from the 1940s) and espouse ideas that went out of fashion when their clothes did. They must all think prescribed thoughts and reject any new ideas.

They must not wear comfortable shoes or neckties with Tlingit designs.

No comments: