By the time George Floyd died, the trend in discussing the fate of unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers was rising despite the fact that the fatality rate was stable and low. So I decided to provide some of my own signals beyond the noise. I originally published his story here.
The Expatriate Pensioner
These days, now that Doc is retired, we don’t talk much about policing. In fact we don’t talk much at all. That’s because he has run off to Ukraine and Turkey. He’ll be back this summer but he has been dealing with the mind-blowing experience of being a handsome rich American living overseas in Eastern Europe. The way he looks at things is through the frustration of ‘everything they told me was a lie’ and has no patience whatsoever for ideas about black inferiority as told through the prejudices of the ordinary black Joe and the calculations of politicos of race. That’s because he’s getting along fabulously in places where it is assumed he will be dealt with suspicion and contempt.
It’s hard to determine whether it is his Americanness or his blackness or his personality is most appealing because every individual sees something different in him, but he’s made a comfortable hit overseas. He offered respite from his new condo in Bodrum for those who might have needed it as the Russians came crashing over the borders, but several of his closest Ukrainian friends were able to get out of the country without much difficulty. Either way, while he never hung out with such people stateside, he has managed to make friends with a kind of international boat-y set of affluent folks.
I have never met a higher caliber of individuals than those encountered here in Turkey. Yachtsmen, chemical engineers, musicians, scientists and decent common folk who shuttle me about to provision house and do spa sessions. These are distinctly golden years and every single day is fresh and hopeful.
In March he recognized and sent pictures of a mega-yacht that was clearly one of the Russian billionaires getting the hell out of Dodge when the invasion began. For the most part, however retirement suits him well and he is enjoying life.
Unicorn or Individual
In part one I started talking about the politics of black communities against City Hall and the consequences in police actions from the POV of a black officer. This officer has fled America. So it begs several questions about where black American men are and ought to be in the world scheme of things. Let’s consider it.
On the one hand, it’s easy to say he’s a unicorn and what his life experience has taught him doesn’t apply to ‘black American men’. On the other hand, he’s exactly the unicorn he wanted to be and rather that be in conflict with the prejudicial stereotypes he pranced over the condescending expectations and went his own way. My take is that latter with the provisional understanding that he’s had plenty of direct contact with other extraordinary individuals in his very own family. Most of the Bowen men in our generation have been overseas. When he got tired of ‘chasing bangers and hopping fences’ doing his police work in LA, he bought property sight unseen in South Dakota for the purposes of decompression. This was after a couple trips to Brazil for vacation. He removed himself physically. I have done that intellectually.
But let’s take the third, abstract hand and talk about the particulars of how black American men, and thus any man, ought to consider law enforcement in particular and violence in general. Swinging over into the context of Martial Education needs some explanation in detail. While I’ve mentioned this previously I do want to spend more time writing about it because it provides a very important context that not many people possess.
Doc had problems explaining who he was and why, and the last time I saw him, he was using the term ‘California-American’. In a way we are prototypical in that regard. We work hard, play hard, are adventurous risk-takers, materially affluent, good looking and take our creative selves seriously. So when asked the philosophical question ‘What are we to do with our bodies?’ the typical California answer involves showing them off, moving them around and engaging them in fun activities. For most people that means boutiques, gyms, trails and pick-up joints. For some, all of that gets tiresome, especially intellectually. If what you’re doing is sexualizing yourself for your own hedonistic desires, I find that to be an ethical dead end. At some point, I was considering Epicureanism as an escape from the ethical quagmire of politics. But when I came to understand the story of the Garden of Epicurus, it reminded me of some rather decadent histories of Howard Hughes and various salons he and his crowd attended. I’ve seen some of that too. As much as I enjoyed watching movies like The Trip and Sideways, the last thing I wanted to become was some fool out of a Neil Simon play.
What did I not learn in school? I remember being struck by an astonishing essay by Gerard Van Der Luen in which he describes two cultures within California, one of leisure & idyll and one of service & sacrifice No abstract can do it justice. Read the whole thing. I did learn about the value of service and sacrifice. Thanks Jesuits. I didn’t expect to get dirty doing so, rather I expected to be recognized as cool for doing so. Another story I recall describes a USMC officer who had pretty much wrecked his body in combat but could not think of a better way to spend his life but continuing his military service, because the real dangerous jungle was that where nothing had value other than the postmodern definitions of cool. Think about that for a minute. Cool kids are all, at bottom, despotic sociopaths. We let them run things, at the very least our aesthetics. I’m talking about you Amber Heard. I’m talking about you Ed Buck. I’m talking about all of the party-goers known to Giselle Maxwell. Americans like to talk about the decline and fall of American society in parallel to that of Rome, and yet pretend that our cultural producers are on the up and up.
If you know me or have heard me say some of this before, please forgive my repetition. In 2013, I figured it out.
I'm not even sure that I was aware that I was in that pursuit. I was scooting along via inertia and aversion. The 'Noble Arena' I began seeking back at State, was more of an escape from Midnight Star in hopes that hiphop would get better, than anything more than an isolated fondness for Liszt and Debussy. It took me years to find the kind of industrial hiphop I truly loved as I suffered through Finitribe, Bad Brains, Barmy Army, and Skinny Puppy. It took me a decade to get past the Granta school of literature. It took me a very long time to settle on the sort of fashion I wish to use to convey my civilization in unspoken ways. All of this continues to evolve, but without the sense of urgency that kept telling me that I still didn't get it. I get it now. My Liberal Arts eduction is settled. I understand what to do with my frustrations when what is commonly out there insults my intelligence. Also importantly, I know what and what not to expect from a deep dive into Epictetus or Sophocles. I can appreciate trees as well as forest. So now what I am missing is a Martial Education.
That was my uneasy and inarticulate turning point. Subsequently I enrolled in CERT and took a 12 week course given by the city Fire Department. Next I took the Citizens Police Academy. Later I took the course for the FBI equivalent. I also sat for 12 weeks with NAMI. I learned combat pistol shooting and I lost about 30 pounds training HIIT style. I’m sure there was a time when people got sick of hearing me talking about all of this, but I tried not to be an ass about it. Out the back side of my Boy Scout Child Protection and ISO certifications and hearing stories by cops and paramedics, I was a changed man. I never quite finished it all. I didn’t get the black belt or the ham radio license and I probably will not pursue them, but I gained a completely new perspective on what it means to be a citizen that is not at all political. It all started with the question, “What am I supposed to do with my body?” and the most ethical answer I could find was about putting it in service to your fellow man. Working it, moving it, training it to be useful to some benefit other than your lover and your mirror. Not easy or obvious when you’re a white collar dude in the keyboard class. Actually, I’m more in the home office pajamas class. Even more removed.
Law enforcement first requires a working understanding of the law, and also requires the kind of indifference to persons that is the cornerstone of liberty. Specifically all the implications of the 14th Amendment. When you actually see it in action, that kind of studied indifference can be offputting, especially considering all of the empathetic vibes that all of the cool kids are trying to demonstrate.
To state the obvious, if you are unclear about what the law is and how it applies in those common situations, like domestic violence, AND you are not willing to sacrifice scuffing your Reeboks to come between people throwing punches, you may very well be cool, but you’re also useless. And talking about the law and violence vs actually putting yourself physically into the mix is an Epicurean thing to do over a fine Merlot, if possible. What lovely flowers you have Mr. Jones, I must know your horticulturist. Oh, and that poor George Floyd!
There is always genuine empathy in much of our rhetoric, yet rhetoric is only suggestive theory. Without a thoroughgoing understanding of how law enforcement and other first responder duties are carried out, our collective whinging undercuts its own moral capacity when it comes to actual policymaking. To racialize that dialog adds insult to ignorance.
I’m not one of those people who play gotcha. It’s important to me that I communicate my Stoic position as one born of praxis. It sometimes feels strange to be writing about things I worked through years ago, but right here and right now this is how I reach the most people. If it takes you ten minutes to read this think of the social context in which you might get me to blather on that long without stopping. Not bloody likely. Here, I’ll write for you. At the bar, I’ll drink with you. At work, I’ll work with you. In the streets, I’ll watch your back, but I’m not a pro and I didn’t throw out my shoulder, elbow and knees for the people’s public safety. That’s all on my brother Doc. I say he’s earned his retirement.
More on public safety in the future.