on “Waiting for José”, and Harel Shapira

In “Bowling Alone”, [Robert] Putnam’s diagnosis of America’s decline is rooted in the loss of civic engagement and the decline in associated life. What America has lost, Putnam argues, are institutions – ranging from churches to book clubs – in which people can come together and do things as a part of a collective, as members of a shared community; what America has lost are Americans who seek institutions; what America has lost is the spirit that is at the heart of our democracy. It is the spirit that Alexis de Tocqueville noticed in the eighteenth century and claimed as the source of America’s strength. The Minutemen agree. And the Minutemen have that spirit. What they lack is not a democratic ethos. They are what people like Putnam and de Tocqueville and our whole liberal democratic political tradition want out of citizens; engaged, active, concerned.

From “Waiting for José” by Harel Shapira.

I met Harel about a year ago. He was a student in a class I was teaching at KR Training. As far as I knew, he was just another student. Turns out that’s not quite the case. 🙂 He’s also an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin.

Harel’s sociological interest is in guns, gun culture, firearms education, the culture of armed citizens, and the people within. He wants to understand why people join social movements, and a large part of that is the “doing” of those movements – and so, he seeks to immerse himself in the movements and “doing” them as well. He’s still an observer and tries to remain as such, but yet he must also participate. It’s quite interesting.

Harel wanted to speak with me (beyond class) on some topics. In part because of my role as Assistant Lead Instructor at KR Training, and also in part because of the incident I was involved in on January 5, 2015. More recently, we’ve started talking again regarding phase 2 of his research (which I don’t believe I can disclose at this time, but it’s a logical progression of his research). I have maintained I will always speak about that incident, because in doing so others can learn and perhaps the world can become a little wiser, a little better. We’ve had a few long lunches, talking at great length about all manner of things (and I truly enjoy our talks). But that’s not why I write today.

Harel’s PhD dissertation became a book: “Waiting for José – the Minuteman’s Pursuit of America“. Harel gave me a copy. On a long flight to Seattle I was finally able to read it – and I’m so glad I did.

The book is thought-provoking. It caused me to reflect. It made me think deeper, not so much about The Minuteman movement or guns and gun culture – but about modern society, and our humanness. For this alone, I think this book well worth reading by anyone, and hopefully they too can step back from the specific subject matter and consider the grander implications of modern society in the USA as well as that strange thing we call “human nature”.

The Minutemen

Briefly, the book chronicles a lengthy period of time Harel spent with the Minutemen. These are people who volunteer to sit at the US-Mexico border, watching for “José” to cross illegally, and work to assist the Border Patrol in their capture.

In the pages of everything from local to international newspapers were photographs of camouflaged men prowling the desert, seemingly a moment away from committing violence. You have probably read these articles and seen these images. The liberal media describes the Minutemen as “sorry-ass gun freaks and sociopaths,” while the conservative media characterizes them as “extraordinary men and women… heroes”. In some accounts these people are patriots; in others, they are lunatics.

One thing is certain, these men and women, whatever their given labels suggest, have come to play an enormous role in our country’s debates about immigration. The problem is that our standard judgements, whether damning them or praising them, sidestep the complex dynamics of who these people are and what they do on the border.

Liberal media accounts suggest that when it comes to immigration, what the Minutemen and their supporters lack is sympathy. If only they understood the plight of the people coming across the border, they would change their minds. But if we are to understand the Minutemen, we need to understand how anger and sympathy can coexist.

Harel writes direct from his experience – he’s the one telling the story. He tells of his experiences: his first arrival, his getting thrown out, his return and initial gaining of trust, the times going out on patrol, sitting in the comms room, and other stories of his experiences with these men and women. He works to analyze and understand why these people do what they do, and become the people they become as a part of this movement.

For example, he tells the tale of Gordon. Gordon was a man without the same background as so many other Minutemen – no military, no law enforcement. Just someone who felt a pull to the movement, had no idea how to participate, but had a burning desire to do so. Then how seeing Gordon over the course of two years, how Gordon grew, how he changed, and how being a Minuteman defined his life and gave him solid purpose.

It becomes very easy to dismiss these people because they are different from you. It’s not a movement you’d join, and it seems a little weird, right? So that must mean these people are weird too. And so, they are dismissed as weirdos and written off.

But what Harel works to do? To find and show their humanness.

Because they are human, just like you.

They want to belong. They want to feel worthwhile. They want to contribute. They want to make a difference. They want to be meaningful.

Just like you.

Sure, the specifics will vary – and they even vary within this grouping. But what I found compelling about Harel’s research – and remember, that Harel is very much an outsider in almost every way – is his desire to understand. Sure, he can’t totally remove his own bias, his own filters, but it’s that very lens that makes the book the worthwhile read. Harel is naive, green, ignorant of this world, with his own preconceived notions. Sure it’s interesting to read the picture painted about The Minutemen, but it’s also worthwhile to watch Harel’s own evolution through this experience.

For me, it was especially interesting to watch because the Harel I met and know is not the same Harel as in the book. So for me, it was neat to see that further backstory to enable me to better understand where Harel is coming from, and where he’s trying to go to with his continued research.

It all boils down to a simple thing: to understanding. Why people are as they are. What makes us human. And you will find that they may not be like you, yet you are more like them than you could ever imagine.

Beyond José

To that, Harel’s latest research (as of this writing) has been published in the March 2018 issue of Qualitative Sociology, entitled “Learning to Need a Gun”. I was a participant in the research, I’ve read his paper, and while sometimes it was a hard read, I felt it was an accurate picture. Hard read? Because there are aspects of modern gun culture that are hard to accept, but to me that just means there’s work ahead towards improving how things are.

If you want to go forward with Harel, I suggest you go backwards a bit. Here’s an interview he did with the UT Sociology department back in 2013 that explains a lot about where he’s coming from.

And for the record, there’s a number of things Harel and I do not agree on. But I’ve found him to be fair and honest, and earnest in his research. I’ve also found that I really enjoy our lunches together. He’s engaging, thought-provoking, and open. I greatly enjoy talking with him, even if we may not agree (what a concept these days, eh?).

I know a lot of people are into the work of David Yamane and his “Gun Culture 2.0” research. Harel and David know each other, and Harel presented at Wake Forest back in 2016. If you dig what David is doing, you should also be following what Harel is doing.

And a great place to start? Reading Harel’s book, “Waiting for José“.

Sigh

What really bothers me is when outrage is driven by ignorance.

The mode of today: get angry first, get information and facts… maybe later.

 

Stop thinking about doing the thing, just do the thing

We never do anything well until we cease to think about the manner of
doing it.

– Hazlitt

That came through the Maku mozo! list a few days ago.

Ever notice how that happens in life? Doesn’t really matter the context, but when you are focused so much on doing the thing that you just can’t do the thing that well? But when you just turn off your brain (so to speak), stop thinking about doing the thing, and just do the thing, that things run really well?

Funny how that is.

Of course, we can’t really turn off our brains. And we don’t just know how to do things. We have to have put in a lot of work, study, practice, failure, effort, time, money, etc. to get to a point of proficiency. And sometimes you have to think about what you’re doing, because that’s precisely part of the work, study, practice, etc. so you can reach that point of “just doing”.

But don’t be afraid of reaching that point. It’s tough – you do have to make a bit of a leap of faith, you do have to trust more than you had before.

But when everything just comes together and you can just perform, it’s such a sweet moment.

 

Peace… and bullies

I honestly do support peace, communication and compromise.

But I do so not from a position of virtue singling or that these ideas are morally superior. It’s because I truly understand how much violence and hatred suck. I’m talking screaming, blood spatter and bodies ‘suck.’

Unfortunately, we have two contributing problems to the third. One is that ‘peace’ has become a not just a moral issue, but a moral superiority one. “I’m better than you because I believe in peace.’ Two is that this position has expanded into cowardice and inaction. That is someone who uses the excuse of “I believe in peace” so they don’t have to step up or confront something that is spinning out into extremes and heading towards violence.

The third problem is bullies. See in a peaceful, non violent world, the bully is king. He can be as pushy, demanding, vicious and violent as he wants and nobody can stop him. Or to be more precise, nobody will stop him. It’s a win for the violent bully.

That’s what happens when people think that peace is a morally superior position. First, they forget that the negotiating table is the option that sucks less. Second they’re at a loss when someone realizes the inherent weakness of their unpreparedness and exploits it. Third, they’ve lost sight of negotiation without the ability to back it up is begging. Fourth, way too often they start crossing the lines too. (Different tactics, but very much the same strategy and goals.) That last leads to the fifth problem, which is they see no reason not to become bullies themselves.

That works until the shooting starts.

I’d kind of like to get back to the negotiating table with the understanding that peace is not a virtue, it’s survival. Because the alternative is really really ugly.

– Marc MacYoung

Posted by Marc on Facebook.

How to make progress

We will make better progress if we start from where we agree and work with open minds and open hearts, than to start from where we disagree and drive the wedge even further.

 

Don’t let “them” win

Did you ever think that getting angry, that causing us to lose our compassion and empathy, is exactly what they want?

There are a lot of contexts and topics on which this applies, both current events and past ones (and certainly future ones, at this rate).

And there are a lot of people/groups that classify as “them”. Even groups you may identify with.

I’m not saying: don’t be angry, don’t be frustrated, tolerate everything. What I am saying is to keep love, compassion, and empathy as your guiding force – not hate, not anger, not resentment, not guilt, not envy, not greed. To think and make decisions with a clear, informed, and thoughtful mind (not a knee-jerk, pandering, emotional, nor irrational one).

Don’t let them play you. Don’t give them what they want… else, they won.

The problem runs deeper than “guns”

What concerns me more than the gun issue per se is the extraordinary violence-saturated, pornified culture of young men driven crazy by failure, loneliness, grievance, and anger. More and more, there are no parameters for the normal expression of masculine behavior in America — for instance, taking pride in doing something well, or becoming a good candidate for marriage. The lower classes have almost no vocational domain for the normal enactments of manhood, and one of the few left is the army, where they are overtly trained to be killers.

Much of what used to be the working class is now an idle class that can only dream of what it means to be a man and they are bombarded with the most sordid pre-packaged media dreams in the form of video games based on homicide, the narcissistic power fantasies of movies, TV, and professional sports, and the frustrating tauntings of free porn. The last thing they’re able to do is form families. All of this operates in conditions where there are no normal models of male authority, especially fathers and bosses, to regulate the impulse control of young men — and teach them to regulate it themselves.

The above was written by James Kunstler as he attempts to examine the greater root causes of gun violence in America. (h/t Greg Ellifritz)

When you have an illness, if you want to get better you have to address the root causes of the illness. For example, get a seasonal cold, and you have to get some rest so your body can fight the infection. To just take Advil and Nyquil to suppress your cough and runny nose, yet you continue to go to the office and slog through, ever notice that you only get worse? Addressing symptoms doesn’t cure what ails you.

And rarely is attempting to suppress one symptom able to fully address the issue.

“Gun Violence”, as some like to term it, is a symptom of a greater, deeper illness in our society. Supposing all guns suddenly disappeared overnight, the deeper underlying problems won’t go away and it will just (re)manifest itself as “knife violence” or “baseball bat violence” or “plowing cars into groups of people violence”.

And what is that context? A nation physically arranged on-the-ground to produce maximum loneliness, arranged economically to produce maximum anxiety, and disposed socially to produce maximum alienation. Really, everything in the once vaunted American way of life slouches in the direction of depression, rage, violence, and death.

Take a step back and look at our modern society. People do love to opine that all this technology brings us closer together – and it does in the sense that you can converse with people on the other side of the world and be instantly aware of everything going on in the world. But it also alienates us – witness a group of people sitting at the dinner table together, yet everyone has their faces buried in their phones instead of eyes and conversation fixed on each other.

Look at how people are afraid to take time off work to go on vacation, and even when they are on vacation don’t stop checking their computer/phones/emails to “check in” at work? Because there’s a perception if you don’t, you’re not a team player or could lose your job.

Where a guy, finally plucking up the courage to say something nice to a girl and maybe ask her out, gets construed as a creeper and shamed because his nervousness and awkwardness get framed as a “threat” or some other social injustice. So instead of risking knee-jerk crucifixion via Twitter, he just closes off and retreats.

Ever notice the common threads that tend to permeate a lot of these mass shooters? It’s not even “mental health” in the sense that they’re psycho and crazy. Often it’s just alienation taken to an extreme. And when the rest of us prefer to be angry and victimized, instead of actually living the compassion they hashtag all day about, is this any wonder?

The physical setting of American life composed of a failing suburban sprawl pattern for daily living — the perfect set-up for making community impossible — obliterates the secondary layer of socialization beyond the family. This is life in the strip-mall wilderness of our country, which has gotten to be mostly of where people live. Imagine a society without families and real communities and wave your flag over that.

A lot of the talk of the failing of family tends to be framed as: man married to woman, with 2.3 kids and 0.8 of a dog. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care how “traditional” or “untraditional” the family is, because if we’re honest with ourselves, family is a far looser construct in terms of composition, but far stronger in terms of ties. You have people in your life that have no blood relation to you, yet you consider them family. You may have people that are genealogically family, but are complete alien to you. I don’t care if family is 2 men or 2 women or adopted or fostered or whatever compilation you can come up with. Do you care for each other? Do you provide for each other? Do you look out for each other? Do you help each other grow and learn and love? Family.

But yet, is family strong or is family failing? As children grow, they will look for role models, for strength and guidance, for belonging. And they will seek it and find it somewhere, even if that somewhere is what you may consider a perverse notion of “family”. Many young males lack a “proper” father-figure, but find that fatherly role and family bond through gang membership. And if you cannot find that family, if you cannot find that community, what consequences are there of that hole? Where you can’t even find a perverse stand-in? What cost does that bear?

Furthermore, with modern men being unable to express masculinity, what consequence does that have?  Knustler touches on this, but I think Jack Donovan provides the best perspective. Another topic for another time.

I know people want to “do something”, but we are wasting time and money on solutions that will not work. There are those that see guns as the problem, but they are met with so much resistance because there are those that see the proposed solutions as not long not solving the problem but making things worse. So yes, there will be resistence those solutions because there is no positive gain. It’s worth stepping back from your dogma and taking honest stock in the situation; it may not be what you like to see, but if you want real solutions it’s usually best to open your eyes and take your fingers out of your ears before plunging headlong.

Realize the problem is complicated, and rarely do complicated problems have simple solutions. Yet, if we can look honestly at the root causes – even if we must admit we had a hand in creating those problems – maybe we can come up with real solutions. The best part is solving those problems will make many things better.

Which part do you disagree with?

Which part do you disagree with?

The steps in the proof?

Or the conclusion?

If you agree with every step of the argument, but the conclusion leaves you angry or uncomfortable, it might be time to reconsider your worldview, not reject the argument.

From Seth Godin.

It’s not over

It is not over until it is over. You cannot be disappointed if you don’t plan to stop until the fight is over. You never know how far you can go until you push beyond self imposed limits.

An excellent bit of advice. You should read the whole article (don’t worry, it’s short). (h/t Greg Ellifritz)

It doesn’t matter what it is that you’re dealing with – keep fighting until it’s over.

When will it be over? You’ll know. If you’re not certain it’s over, then keep fighting.

Ignorance, incompetence, mechanical breakdowns, bad weather and enemy action can not be avoided, but you can control your reactions. Confidence in your self and training can keep you calm when others panic. Sometimes the winner is decided by nothing more than who stays on the field.

When you’re dead, you’ll be dead; until then, keep fighting.

Good and Kind

What good shall I do this day?

As your day starts, do you ask yourself what good you shall do today? As your day ends, do you ask yourself, what good did you do today?

And what is your answer?

And if you do not ask yourself these things, why don’t you? I too need to improve my practice.

Of course, what is “good”?

Some time ago when I first read Dale Carnegie’s famous How To Win Friends and Influence People, one thing that struck me from his first chapter was his demonstration that even ruthless criminals consider what they are doing is “good”. It’s simply human that we only undertake things we consider “good”. Where the issue comes is when your definition of good differs from my definition, or society’s definition.

To me, a key differentiator is – kindness.

To be friendly, generous, considerate. It implies interaction with others, in a friendly, generous, and considerate way.

You may think killing a bunch of people you find repugnant is “doing good”. But where is the kindness in such action?

You may think manifesting your outrage, labeling others as “wrong”, shouting them down, campaigning for change is doing good. But where is the kindness? And in your self-evaluation, are you considering kindness towards your enemies as well? Or are you just blindly rationalizing your choices?

Look at the fruits of such action. Is it making the world better? Is it leading to a world of more kindness and understanding? At least as I see it, it’s only making matters worse.

Carnegie concludes his chapter:

Instead of condemning people, let’s try to understand them. Let’s try to figure out why they do what they do. That’s a lot more profitable and intriguing than criticism; and it breeds sympathy, tolerance and kindness. “To know all is to forgive all.”

I’ve been so angered and saddened the past few days. Another horrible thing happens in the world, and so many people’s response is more anger, more lashing out, more fuel for their political fires, more attacking symptoms and not underlying problems, more blindness, more blame, more hate – and especially from people who espouse otherwise. Something about a log in your own eye.

They all believe what they are doing is “good”. But goodness without kindness, I don’t think is good.

I see no attempt to understand.

I see no attempt at kindness.

I see no attempt to love.

I weep.

But I strengthen my resolve. What good shall I do this day?

What good will you do this day?