Sunday, September 21, 2008
Steamboat Springs As a youngster raised in a poor farming and ranching community in central New Mexico, and later as a rangeland scientist and educator, I learned two definitions of the term "maverick." One applied to a cow or ewe that had the exasperating propensity to break through fences in order to get out of a pen or pasture or into haystacks, grain bins and other unwelcome places.
Typically, these animals had no particular need to display self-serving, nuisance behavior, they just did it. They often would cause significant economic damage and danger to themselves, other animals or farm hands, or even the public when the breakouts were on roads. One outcome of their "maverick" behavior was to teach other innocent, unquestioning, and nonreasoning herd members their obnoxious traits. Local wisdom suggested the only mitigation for unruly behavior was culling from the herd and being sent to market. Otherwise, the whole herd or flock might develop a "pack" mentality, become uncontrollable and create chaos and turmoil with no productive outcome.
The second definition of "maverick" applied to ne'er-do-well, rural human males (less frequently females) who were the guys who would lie, cheat, steal, shoot holes in road signs and tear down Forest Service and BLM gates. They would revel in poaching game animals and shooting nongame animals just for the hell of it. They would brag relentlessly about their exploits, their conquests (real or imagined), and their delusions. They were the real social misfits of the community.
Some of these people received Darwin Awards for stupidity and were removed from the gene pool. Other "mavericks" survived, were able to disguise their antisocial behavior and integrate into society. But rarely, if ever, did these individuals achieve leadership roles because their communities knew that behind the bluster and rhetoric of the "maverick" was someone who could not be trusted.
I have carried these two definitions from my youth. How surprised and astonished I have been to realize two of the candidates for the most important roles in the world have chosen to declare themselves "mavericks"! Certainly, where I grew up, a "maverick" could not be trusted to govern.