Archive for the ‘Gangs’ Category

The Rise of Virtual Shirt Movements

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

In a 2010 post, I wrote about the history of “shirt movements” like the Blackshirts and the Brownshirts, and how these violent thugs drove more moderate associations and leaders from the public square in the 1920s, 30s, and thereafter, allowing Fascist and other totalitarian movements to take power.

Thanks to Twitter and other social media, it is now possible to mount a virtual shirt movement of hundreds of thousands of participants (but usually a much smaller, but very vocal group) to marginalize individuals and one’s political or social opposition.

Since this virtual shirt movement phenomenon is still immature, many individuals are shaken when seemingly thousands of persons virtually gang up on them. However, as this phenomenon does mature and become better understood, we may see a situation in which only virtual reactions involving one million or more participants will be taken seriously, and only if they sustain themselves over time. Universities are especially susceptible to relatively small virtual shirt movements.

Right now, virtual shirt movements seem very powerful. This power may degrade as it is better understood, and as information countermeasures are established.

A virtual shirt movement may seem “fierce,” but these “virtually fierce” ones eventually can be virtually discredited and even ignored as their manipulative efforts are themselves revealed and better understood.

But if virtual shirt movements are taken too seriously and are allowed to succeed, we will see the makings of a new virtual fascism or totalitarianism. One sure harbinger of Fascism is a group of thugs who drive their opposition from the public square, virtually or otherwise.

© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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The Disappeared in Ukraine — Mr. Putin’s Gangster Tactics?

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

It is time to speak out, loudly, for the disappeared, kidnapped, missing, and murdered journalists, civic, and local leaders in Ukraine, apparent victims of a state-supported ethnic Russian insurgency that has degenerated, perhaps by design, into hoodlumism. Some of those abducted, among whom are included international journalists, are documented by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

Vladimir Putin’s attempted statesman-like argument in his 3/18/14 speech that Russia has a legitimate claim to reunify, citing the example of reunification of Germany post 1989, is undermined by the gangster tactics being used to destroy civil society in Ukraine with Russian-supporting insurgents apparently kidnapping local leaders and those who could report on Ukrainian events. One cannot pose as a statesman while allowing political kidnappings and murders to continue.

Such abductions appear simply to be a modern crowdsourcing of the same old gulag, where each abductee is introduced to their own private hell. Indeed, some abductees have been reportedly been tortured.

[Warning: if you don’t want your computer or website to be hacked, then stay away from Russian or proxy websites with videos of Mr. Putin’s speech.]

These numerous and systematic Ukraine kidnappings and killings are a human rights issue and should be confronted by an international human rights campaign bolstered by social media. Although world-wide human rights campaigns terrify totalitarian states, the current weak US administration is relatively silent on the human rights aspect of the Ukrainian disappeared, and thereby a great opportunity is being lost.

Human rights campaigns work in two important ways that frighten totalitarian regimes. One is that they erode international support among the intelligentsia and the young for the bullying regime, and the other is that they alienate both the intelligentsia and the young within the bullying state and strengthen the prospects of an eventual political opposition. Machiavellian tactics only endure when the pose of morally-based action can be maintained over time. Constantly shifting Machiavellian media pivots thereby gradually undermine a totalitarian regime’s credibility.

Even with technological advances, it is no longer possible for a totalitarian regime to shield all news out as when print and radio dominated the 1930s. So modern manipulators jimmy the news cycle to distract and misdirect world and local attention. But an unrelenting human rights campaign focused on individual suffering victims breaks through such manipulation, because human rights campaigns are based upon the compelling stories of unjustly persecuted individuals. And there is nothing so persuasive and arresting as the story of an unjustly suffering human being. No state can long succeed in standing between the compassion of one human being for another.

Therefore, we remember among those recently abducted: Artem Deynega, Paul Gogo, Kossimo Attanasio, Dmitry Galko, Serhiy Lefter, Yevhen Hapych, Vitaliy Kolupa, Irma Krat, Oleg Prokhorov, Volodymyr Rybak, Vadym Sukhonos, Mr. Yakymov, and Nelya Shtepa.

Each such disappeared person in Ukraine therefore needs to be supported by social media efforts. They should not be forgotten. Everyone who possibly can should share and link to the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty website on The Abducted and the Missing in Ukraine.

And for all those uninformed pundits who think Mr. Putin is playing chess, the truth is, by allowing the kidnappings and murders to continue, Mr. Putin is now not even playing checkers. By letting his effort descend from statesmanship to ham-handed gangsterism, Mr. Putin will sooner than he thinks be out of pieces with which to play, even given the weakest US regime in recent memory.

© Copyright 2014, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Run-of-the-Mill Hedonism

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

After our youngest child went to college, we cut down to one car, and I began to take Chicago’s public transportation system, the CTA, more often. This led me back to some late nights on the bus and train, and has found me also schlepping my library books back and forth in canvas bags like the student I was years ago.

In these canvas bags are books culled from among some seventy libraries in Illinois. I order books electronically during the week, and pick them up at the university library before the weekend. The books rest beside me on the floor “on the CTA.” Also riding beside me may be the quietly desperate, the drunken, the pierced, the kindly, the overworked, or the preoccupied, many of whom are indeed busy with their phones. For part of my ride, I try to pray, despite the Blue Line’s urine scent. Sometimes in my reverie I try to imagine what relationship might exist between the books that I read and the people whom I meet.

The books I schlep are sometimes about high philosophical topics, the latest debates between believers and high-brow atheists. I suspect, however, that few, if any, of my fellow riders–say, the woman with the cursive cliche inscribed above her breast loudly discussing with her friend on the phone her desire to have her tattoos removed–pay much attention to the high-brow atheists in my canvas bag.

My public commutes have led me to reflect that the greatest impediments to religion are thus not so much outright rejection, but distraction, not so much disbelief, but forgetfulness, not so much disavowal, but abandonment.

Philosophers have sometimes asked, “What should we be doing?” and Peter Drucker decades ago queried, “What business are we in?” A very useful alternative question with the potential to “back us in” to a similar set of truths is: “What are we doing instead of what we should be doing?”

What are nominally Christian parents doing instead of taking their children to church on Sunday? Oftentimes, they are going to sporting and educational events. Having served on a number of Catholic school boards, I learned that even the board members with children were in some cases choosing sports over Mass.

It somehow still surprises policymakers that college students find other things to do besides studying. According to federal statistics, about a quarter of college students abuse alcohol often enough to hurt their academic progress.

What are many young urban adults doing instead of forming traditional male-female, two parent families? My answer may surprise you: They are not, except in the rarest of instances, forming same-sex parenting couples, who represent but a tiny statistical fragment in American society. Many young people instead join for a time the largest claimant families of all: street gangs, whose members number in the tens of thousands in many major American urban areas, and whose scope overshadows all other non-traditional aspirants to family standing. The street gang, with its false pose as “family,” is far and away the greatest physical threat to authentic family and religious life, and should be a national ministry priority.

Thousands more people get intoxicated and miss worship events than do miss them because they are reading Nietzsche. Alcohol and drug abuse aside, many people think they have something more fun and satisfying to do other than praying and serving others: watching or playing weekend sports, or simply going shopping.

All this leads me to propose that run-of-the-mill hedonism poses a graver threat to religion than does high-brow atheism.

Hedonism is not “all Animal House all the time” as it is life by the pleasure principle. Simple pleasures will do. To update Camus’ adage from The Fall, we can sum up our age: Modern men and women fornicated (often alone) and went on the Internet.

Despite the fact that many of today’s young adults went to sports, school, or gang activities most weekends instead of worship, drank their way through their college-age years (elite students confining their hedonism mostly to the weekends), live in a “boozetown” young adult entertainment district, engage in virtual violence, fornicate on the Internet, and rarely practice formal religion, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins had almost nothing to do with this result, and Nietzsche didn’t give them the idea except maybe by wafting words through the Zeitgeist by way of the arts, letters, and film, some of which are indeed produced by Nietzsche aficionados.

Run-of-the-mill hedonism, predating just about every atheist who anticipated his or her own eternal non-existence, appears to take its own course, amplified and extended by profiting media, now targeted and consumed individually. “Sexperts” and cultural provocateurs like Dan Savage ride this turbulent tide, which nevertheless would flow without them.

Does the believer take arms against this sea of troubles? There is little point for religion to argue with run-of-the-mill hedonism, since hedonism is about enjoyment—like Pinocchio on Fun Island—only while it lasts. Jiminy Cricket could not talk sense into Pinocchio, who had to find out for himself–after the cruel metamorphosis of a boy into a donkey–the consequences of the simple decisions that kept him a puppet.

The alternative to run-of-the-mill hedonism ever is God’s unfolding love, but where beyond the choir is that Gospel heard? Believers continue to refute both atheism and hedonism, but their messages are jammed by the crackling static of hedonism, through which only random sound bites and tweets appear to penetrate. The faith, hope, and love encyclicals of the recent popes contain inspiration, but who knows it? Benedict XVI overturned Nietzsche and reclaimed Eros for the Christian in Deus Caritas Est (extending John Paul II’s Theology of the Body), but who has heard? Pope Francis has said that, contra hedonism, no one person is disposable:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 1, accessed 12/17/13.

Sometimes, Pope Francis’s words do break through the hedonic noise, drawing significant bandwidth and brain-width. How? Is it simply that, like St. Francis de Sales, Pope Francis offers beads of honey instead of barrels of vinegar?

To understand this Francis Effect upon hedonistic attention, we can consider in layers our responses to hedonism, from the high-brow on down. The high-brow response includes journals like First Things, which nobly strives to prevent Nietzsche aficionados from sowing more weeds. The middle-brow response, set at the level of the old Great Books discussions and of Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, now dwells on the plateau of the PBS series–like Fr. Robert Barron’s numerous New Evangelization and new media efforts–and continually plows new ground. The low-brow response–wrestling in the mud with the hedonists–merely spreads around the mud.

But Christians have a fourth option. For this they must be willing to go “lower” than the hedonists, to go “no-brow.” In Pope Francis, Catholicism is once again reemphasizing this “no-brow” “rhetoric of the heart” (my son Mike’s phrase) that bypasses disputation through concrete personal acts of love and solidarity. Catholicism partially diverted from this approach after Vatican II when clergy became webbed within a pestilence of useless internal meetings during the era of “collegiality gone wild.”

The “no-brow” strategy includes the direct, personal living out of the Works of Mercy, both corporal (Matthew 25) and spiritual (I Thessalonians 5), and practices those good works (Romans 12) which take us directly beside another, and keep us there: to the hungry person who needs to eat, the sick person who needs care, the prisoner who needs a visit, the pregnant teen considering abortion, the student who needs to learn, the warrior regretting a war. Modernity has bureaucratized the work of the physician, the nurse, the teacher, the cleric, and the parent beyond recognition. But the “no-brow” stand of Christian personalism takes works of charity and justice back to immediate, direct human companionship, to “get beside” and “stay beside” another in joy. Hedonism has no answer, save slander and persecution, for the Beatitudes. That is in part how the message of Pope Francis continues to break through.

Believers hold that there is a truer joy in parting from hedonism. Happily one point of “finding out for ourselves” remains both divinely and naturally ordained: Because youth is ever fleeting, the same words that thirty-something Augustine was urged to tolle, lege, ever speak to us:

“Do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:11-14 [from NAB])”

At the bottom of my canvas bag, each week I put several meal bars, in case I should encounter one of the “brothers Christopher”–a lovely old phrase indeed.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Schools and prisons as the composite urban educational system

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Those seeking to end urban violence look first to change the school and the neighborhood and to gimmicks like a summit or a truce when they should be first looking to change the prison.

Prisons can send violence back to the school and neighborhood as quickly as the school and neighborhood can pacify themselves.

It was from the US prison over the past five decades that the gang culture codified, solidified, and expanded to become culturally normative in terms of urban mores, manners, art, fashion, and violence, including domestic violence and the expanded physical and sexual abuse of children.

The culture of the urban street and the culture of the prison are now nearly indistinguishable.

Compounded by self-contradictory wars on drugs, by a lock-em-up-and-throw-away-the-key attitude, and by over-committed state and local governments, prisons by default became our society’s most influential, effective, and powerful urban teaching institutions, having arguably a greater effect upon the quality of life in urban society than any combination of other institutions.

Through the growth of a “prison-industrial complex” in rural areas, certain rural communities have also become socially and economically dependent on prison society, changing the face of rural life in untold ways.

The research evidence assembled by the Correctional Education Association is abundant that education within prison reduces recidivism and increases earning after prison.

Hundreds of thousands of (mostly) men of (mostly) color, many with salvageable chances, languish in our US prisons. We should be educating these prisoners at a much higher rate than we are at present.

But such a program will not win elections, so neither political party is taking up this cause. This is social neglect of the worst order. We have thereby mis-educated five urban generations to violence, failure, and despair.

Schools and prison are actually one composite urban educational system, with the prison as the “anti-school” that defeats the purposes of school. Prison reform is therefore key to any sustainable urban school reform.

Unless we effectively reform and rebuild the educational component of the prison, our US urban civilization is doomed to become ever more violent and hopeless, and therefore, unsustainable.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles, CA

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Back in the early 1990s, Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, of Los Angeles, CA, visited Niles College Seminary (now St. Joseph Seminary) in Chicago (where I worked from 1992-94) as part of an effort we then called the Gang Ministry Research Project, which brought a number of those in Chicago ministry with gang members together to pray and to share ideas.

Source: Homeboy Industries

Fr. Boyle’s innovative LA ministry since 1988, Homeboy Industries, which has helped thousands of gang members seek alternatives to the gang life, now needs financial support, and has been forced to lay off dozens of workers. Information on how to donate is at the Homeboy Industries website–

http://www.homeboy-industries.org/index.php

The following Homeboy Industries link has several podcasts with more background on their work–

http://www.homeboy-industries.org/video-gallery.php

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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