Monday, August 22, 2016

"A Polite Society"?

I shake my head sadly when the guy I'm walking with tells me, "Hey did you hear they stabbed Steward?" (Not his real name.)

Anywhere but here this would be a bizarre conversation starter. Here in prison it's a conversation I've had countless times. It's normal to be walking across the yard and see blood trailing up the sidewalk or to see men wrapping their faces with t-shirts and trying to get back to their cells without getting caught or assaulted again. In most cases, the victims are found out, locked up and transferred to another prison. The perpetrators mostly go uncaught.

I have heard people on the news saying things like, "An armed society is a polite society." I wish I could bring them here and send them out onto the yard with a jagged piece of steel to test their theory. An armed society is anything but polite. It's a society of bullies and overly sensitive egos; of men who never have to develop their character because they can hide behind their brutality and call themselves "men." It's a society where those most willing to do violence (or pay others to do it) set the honor code and good men don't challenge it because they don't want to get caught up in a stabbing war.

It's a society where the first time "an armed man" runs into someone he can't dominate — someone either better armed or stronger than he is — he starts a gang of bullies and thugs to protect himself. Then others, afraid of being bullied by that gang, start their own and on and on until what's true and what's right become irrelevant. The only thing that matters is who is most vicious and most willing to do the most violence.

Take it from someone who knows: An armed society is not a "polite" society. An armed society is a bloody, vicious, and stupid society where those with the least moral compunction rise to the top.

I've seen too many men stabbed and slashed in my thirty years here. Some "deserved" it, if that matters to you, but most did not. Most were men who had sworn off violence and were simply trying to live in an environment where a few armed thugs set the tone for everyone else.

The gun lobby has another cute bumper sticker: "The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun."

Well, here's a question we seem to have overlooked: Once everyone has guns, who gets to decide who can call themselves "the good guys"? Answer: The last ones standing.

If you want that to be your moral compass, the standard by which you tell the difference between good and bad, you're welcome to it. I would like something a little further up the food chain.

You see, I'm in prison for taking the life of a young man in a bar fight. I was "the last man standing,"
but that didn't make me the good guy. It made me a very bad guy.

Some might make the mistake of assuming I'm against guns. I'm not. I'm against violence.

The problem with the American gun lobby isn't that they own guns or that they stand up for the rights of people who own guns. The problem is that they believe in and advocate violence as a pillar of civil society. They believe violence is a legitimate form of power. In this, they are no different than the criminals I live with.

Both seem ignorant of the fact that violence is like the cuckoo bird hatchling: the moment it is hatched into the nest of civil society it begins to murder and toss over the side of the nest all other forms of power.

Self-Advancement or Self-Transformation?

Recently, I Tweeted:

So a friend asked: What kind of questions could we ask ourselves to determine if we're in self-advancement mode or self-tranformation mode?

It's an excellent question. These are not really "ways of thinking" as much as they are states of consciousness. As such they are mostly unconscious and shape our behavior by changing how we see the world. If we think the purpose of life is to get ahead, to succeed, everything will look different than if we think the purpose of life is to learn to love, i.e., self-transformation.

Even spirituality can be approached through both of these filters. If I think the purpose of spirituality is some form of self-advancement, personal salvation for example, I'm going to be much more fundamentalist in my views and much more focused on the legalistic aspects of scripture than on the love aspects. If the reverse is true, I see the love aspect of spirituality as most important because I know that spiritual love is an ego-cide. Radical love, love that costs me my ego, is the all of spirituality.

If I put this into questions the first big one would be:

Am I in love mode or defense mode?

Others are:

  • How cheated by life do I feel?
  • How many enemies do I have?
  • Do I hold anyone else accountable for my own happiness and well being?
  • Do I own other peoples' suffering?
  • Do I recognize my own privilege?
  • How far out do the boundaries of my "tribe" extend?
  • Is service something I do in life or who I am? (Do I see my life as a mission of service?)