Saturday, May 30, 2015

Weekend Semi-Open Thread: Eric Hobsbawn, the Waco Riot, and Outlaw Motorcycle Clubs

As is our habit and tradition do treat this as a semi-open weekend thread.

I hope that you are having a good and restful weekend. Here in Chicago, the weather has flipped from nice and warm to windy and cold: Lake Michigan and the jet stream are being cantankerous.

I decided to see Mad Max a second time. The film is even better when I am not watching it while in horrible pain. Not a surprise. To celebrate my return to the scene of my epic fall, I decided to get some Chinese food as a reward for confronting the sidewalk that leaped up and assaulted me those two weeks ago. Chinese food is never good when you bring it home. The steam ruins the flavor and texture of the food. Again, not a surprise.

There have been some very insightful and spot on comments here on WARN in response to the various posts on the Waco motorcycle gang riot and racial bias by the news media.

James Scaminaci's observation is especially compelling. He wrote:
I did not see the motorcycle gangs as examples of "white" or "whiteness." My background was analyzing, from an intelligence perspective, organized crime, particularly in Europe. Organized crime gangs are essentially organized by ethnicity or nationality. Thus, there are entire criminological literatures on Russian, Ukrainian, Chechen, or Italian, or Nigerian or Japanese or Chinese organized crime gangs or networks of gangs. The ethnicity is just an identifier to differentiate one criminal network from another and to show how different ethnic criminal networks cooperate. In essence, racism does not impede the illicit flow of goods, services, and people. 
Even American organized crime is organized and studied in terms of Jewish, Italian, or Irish organized crime. No one in this criminological or sociological literatures makes the leap that Jews or Italians or Irish have a culture promoting crime.
I am always impressed by how real experts discuss a subject as compared to the mess that laypeople and generalists--especially in the news media--make of a given matter.

America loves outlaws, gangsters, and violence. The Mafia is romanticized; the Old West is part of America's cultural mythology. The blues, rock and roll, and hip hop offer(ed) up tales of bad men who defied the system even while they were made inevitably made to suffer by it.

[In many ways the "murder ballads" of the blues were the first iteration of "gangsta rap".]

And as I discussed with Leonce Gaiter, America is very comfortable with cartoon gangster images of faux tough guy rappers, while being profoundly uncomfortable with real tales of black masculinity, revenge, and honor.

We love the "badman" and the "bad nigger"; we fear the "badman" and "bad nigger" even while we idolize and wish that we had their gumption and nerve.

[Bigger Thomas, Stagolee, Deadwood Dick...who would you rather be?]

I am unsure if all roads lead back through the work of the great historian and thinker Dr. Eric Hobsbawn. On matters of "the outlaw" and "outlaw culture", his insights are an obligatory stop.

In his book Bandits, Hobsbawn wrote about the social bandit, who he described as:
The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported. This relation between the ordinary peasant and the rebel, outlaw and robber is what makes social banditry interesting and significant ... Social banditry of this kind is one of the most universal social phenomena known to history.
Writing for The New Yorker, Jon Lee Anderson had the honor of meeting Hobsbawn and commented how:
A couple of years ago, in Rio de Janeiro, I was discussing the city’s gangster problem with a Brazilian colleague, João Moreira Salles. In trying to describe the late Marcinho VP, a charismatic, intelligent gang leader he had known well, Salles said, “Marcinho VP was a classic Hobsbawmian guerrilla.” He was referring, of course, to Eric Hobsbawm, the brilliant Marxist British historian, who died Monday at the age of ninety-five. 
Hobsbawm’s political affinities made him an easy target for criticism, especially after the fall of Communism, but his extraordinary quartet of books covering the history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was widely acknowledged as groundbreaking, even by his ideological foes. The conservative Scottish historian Niall Ferguson was among those who praised him yesterday. 
Another of Hobsbawm’s legacies was his unprecedented research into, and writings on, bandits and outlaws. In his 1969 book “Bandits,” which showcased such figures as Salvatore Giuliano, Robin Hood, and Pancho Villa, he explored how certain bandits remained criminals while others became revolutionaries...
In the end, Hobsbawm was something of a romantic, and evinced an underlying faith in human nature. Perhaps, indeed, it was what lay at the roots of his Marxism. In a 1999 postscript to “Bandits,” he mentioned with some pride how, in the seventies, members of a radical Mexican peasant group had let him know they approved of his writing on social banditry. He noted, “It does not prove that the analysis put forward in this book is right. But it may give readers of the book some confidence that it is more than an exercise in antiquarianism or in academic speculation. Robin Hood, even in his most traditional forms, still means something in today’s world, to people like these Mexican peasants. There are many of them. And they should know.”
America's outlaw motorcycle clubs constitute a legitimate subculture and possess a rich history. They are not "social bandits" in the sense that Hobsbawn used the concept. But, like many other criminal enterprises, they do represent a type of outsider culture that stands opposed to a highly regimented and life sucking service and technology based society and economy that alienates the individual from their true self.

What are your thoughts? Any reading suggestions or other insights to share about outlaw motorcycle culture? Matters of public or private concern that you would like to share?


chauncey devega said...

Learn something everyday. I need to track down that book.

balitwilight said...

Hunter Thompson got beaten up by the Hell's Angels because he dared to suggest that one of their members ought not to hit his wife.

balitwilight said...

I certainly agree with the criminologist that organised crime often traces national/ethnic lines. The "black swan" disruption to that analysis, however, is the Race-craft of America. Many American motorcycle gangs certainly see themselves as "white". In fact, most have rules in their club charters forbidding membership to "black" people: not Kenyan or Gambian, or Eritrean or Nigerian Americans - just "black" people. Furthermore, FBI criminologists have traced deep relationships between America's motorcycle gangs and "White Supremacist" militants - whom they supply illegal guns.
- It isn't surprising that, where other things follow national or ethnic lines, in America, they are crushed by the gravity of Race-craft into the fabricated classifications of race. Chechen and Russian and Italian crime families still exist in America - as do Jamaican... but who here doesn't recall that even the Mafia in America would not do certain kinds of deals with "blacks". There is no material or social phenomenon in America that does not have some foundation in "white" racism - present or historical.
- The erasure of identity into "race" is reversible for "white" people, who can magically 3D back into "Half-Irish, quarter Italian, quarter Cherokee!!!"... but it is irreversible for the so-called-"black" identity. That classification is a black hole, just the way its 17th century European fabricators wanted it. It is the reason why few people know that the most highly educated overall - of ALL immigrants - in the United States... are Nigerians.

Bob Morris said...

Thompson spent months in the hospital, they nearly killed him...

Buddy said...

Published about fifty years ago. It's amusing in spots, often profound. A quick read.

joe manning said...

Hobsbawm's interdisciplinary analysis of society provided an illustrative big picture. He deftly pointed out the advantages of socialism over capitalism that's still convincing even after the demise of east European communism.