When I have sat down the last few days to start drafting a post, I find that there is a lot going on in my head at the moment. I will start writing a post about one thing, only to discover it morphing into a discussion of yet another thing. I’m not exactly complaining as it is a little refreshing to have the ideas flowing, but it’s going to take some discipline and work to extract cogent posts from that flow.
In the meantime, here are some of the things that have been setting my thoughts in motion.
(1) I have almost finished reading Ioan Grillo’s El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency. Besides further solidifying my conviction that the U.S. (at least as a political entity) has been a terrible neighbor to Mexico, the book has me thinking about several things in a new light. In no particular order:
(a) Gun control, drug control, and people control: Grillo’s account of how lax gun control laws in the U.S. states that border Mexico have helped funnel in excess of a 100,000 weapons into the hands of Mexico’s cartels reframes the gun control debate and makes it part and parcel of the immigration and drug debate. There aren’t really three distinct issues, just three aspects of a common phenomenon. It seems like the whole phenomenon needs to be kept in mind as the disparate aspects of it are addressed. It sure would be nice to see that discussion take shape at the upper echelons of government…
(b) U.S.-Mexico parallels: It’s a bit unnerving to consider, but there are ways in which the U.S. could fairly easily slide toward the sort of crisis plaguing Mexico. The ambiguous connections between the military, law enforcement, and criminality are already in place in the U.S., and the economic disparities between the richest and poorest are well underway.
(c) Religion at the Margins: Grillo spends a little time talking about the role of folk saints like Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte in the narco movement. While he avoids conflating the religious activity around these figures with el narco, he can’t help but observe that the way in which temples have popped up around these figures can’t be separated from the narcos, either. The flood of narco cash that invigorates the poor neighborhoods is also what supports the shrines.
If you get the saints you need rather than the ones you want, then their presence are signs of their capacity to do holy work in hard times rather than as a cynical expression of cultural corruption.
(2) I have also been thinking a lot about this article on red wolf preservation and the challenges that have cropped up around how to define a species. In no particular order:
(a) Progress in genetics has really upended what it means to talk about a species. Whereas we once saw species as fairly distinct and as reflecting something essential about an community of related organisms, it is increasingly becoming a term that has a heuristic rather than technical value. The differentiation of a species seems to be more of a rough map that we overlay over the flows of genetic transformations that underpin natural selection.
(b) We really don’t teach people to think critically about categories, so that when a category (like species) is revealed to be more contingent and makeshift that first imagined, it breeds reactive skepticism and doubt. The idea that the red wolf may represent an exceptionally dynamic hybrid organism rather than one easily assigned to a species doesn’t make the red wolf any less real or concerns for its preservation any less valid. It just challenges us to rethink the terms with which we appreciate the world around us and how we might relate to it.
(c) To carry out a line of thought already raised here, it also brings into sharp relief the problems with tradition policing. A tradition is really something akin to a species. It is a rough map that we overlay onto the flows of living practice and the differentiation of one from another takes place most productively on the ground, not from above.
(3) Speaking of rough maps of dynamic flows, I’m thinking about this article about the cultural regions of the U.S., mostly in a vague sort of way. It is a little clickbait-ish in its presentation and neglects some important contact zones, but the core of it is useful to think about. Those regions aren’t bad ways to break out broad chunks of how U.S. history has crystallized around blocks of history and ecology, especially if you then dive into the history around which those regions have formed and consider the tensions (ideological, cultural, ethnic, racial, economic, as well as geological, biological, and ecological) that animate them.
(a) I’m musing at what it means to have roots in Yankeedom and New France but to have lived most of my conscious life in and at the outskirts of Greater Appalachia, excepting a spell in the Far West. I don’t want to treat that as some sort of typology (I’m 1/4 New France and…), but as a resource for thinking about the habits of my family history, of the social and ecological world from which they emerged, alongside the social and ecological world into which my own life has been projected.
(b) I’m also wondering about the future of these zones, as the world is remade in the wake of climate change and the undoing of U.S.-European hegemony. What sort of flows will be unleashed, ecological and human, as the very climate of these places changes and political instability increases the churn of peoples?
(4) Though much of this may seem like it is distant from the magical discussions that go on here, I’m really not sure they are. The way in which these things force us to rethink the structure of the world also forces us to reconsider how we relate to this world magically, since so much of what animates a practice is drawn from the place and time in which the magical practice develops.
P.S. Can I use the word ‘flow’ any more than I already have in this post? Sheesh!