Below you will find a comment written by one of the authors whose work I criticized in a recent post, philosopher Chad Kautzer. Because many people miss (or actively avoid reading) the comments, I offered to move his comments to a free-standing post as a reply to my original.
As Kautzer notes, authors feel honored when people take time to read and think about their work, even when you don’t think the reader gets it quite right, or even if you think the reader gets it quite wrong. I feel the same here, and posting his vigorous reply fits in with my overall goal in attempting to understand guns and gun culture in America: LIGHT OVER HEAT.
My original post (as evidenced by a mistake Kautzer notes) and Kautzer’s reply were both written fairly quickly, and so Kautzer’s reply here appears as it was originally written to preserve that reality. Please read on.
Comment by Chad Kautzer
Professor Yamane, it’s a pleasure to engage you on this topic. I too remember you from the Amherst conference and I’m honored that you took the time to read my latest essay in Boston Review. It is quite long and, as you say, connects a lot of dots, so I do not fault anyone for missing a point or argument along the way. Since your interpretation of my essay has informed a public critique of it, I do, however, feel a responsibility to respond to some mischaracterizations and factual errors. This is particularly so since you draw a rather strong conclusion, namely, that my essay (together with the others you mention) is paternalistic insofar as it “casts racially diverse gun owners in the role of “Acting White.”
Let me begin with a factual error. You write: “We know that Kautzer concludes his essay invoking the work of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.” I don’t, actually. I appreciate the work of Dunbar-Ortiz, although I disagree with her interpretation of the Second Amendment, but either way her work is neither cited nor relied upon in my essay. Normally, this would be an insignificant mistake, but you rely on such connections in order to demonstrate the “magnificently consistent takes on gun culture” at Boston Review. Or, as you write, that my work and that of Dunbar-Ortiz are the “other dots [that] could also be connected.”
Consistency is more than merely a question of who cites whom, of course, so my correction of your mistake doesn’t take the possibility of a more substantive consistency off the table. But before I address that question, I do want to say something about the method that informs your post. After a sketch of my essay, you write: “The Boston Review’s algorithm also pointed me to three additional stories, all of which provide variations on Kautzer’s theme.” My essay, together with these other three, are where you find “magnificently consistent takes on gun culture.” Now, as an academic you know that journals are specialized by topic or method, so it would surely be unsurprising that a journal about, say, race and criminology, would publish many articles about race and criminology. Indeed, the point of specialization is to further debates and research on a set of topics of interest to the readers and authors and in that process they often cite each other and, indeed, blurb each other’s books. In this case, however, you take it a step further and rely on a Boston Review’s “readers also like” algorithm for your critique of magnificent consistency.
I don’t think I need to explain the problem with this method, but in any case I take your consistency critique to be a bit of a red herring. To fault an algorithm designed to provide consistency for providing consistency would be absurd. I assume that your critical post about my work and Boston Review is motivated by your dislike or disagreement with either the methods or the claims (or both) of the work you read. It is true that the works you cite generally focus on questions of masculinity, race, colonialism, white supremacy, social domination, and identity and do so using methods attentive to history, power, and subject formation (including the construction of raced and gendered subjects). Most work on gun culture or firearms generally employs different methods and does not engage these themes, so we are no doubt a subfield. But, again, finding consistent methods or topics within a subfield is not revelatory, so I assume the problem you see with this work concerns the specific claims being made.
You write, for example: “Metzl also continues on Kautzer and Dunbar-Ortiz’s theme of guns as “integral to white male authority.” You don’t attempt to refute this claim, but you apparently disagree with it. Similarly, you write: “The Boston Review story includes a conversation between Pettengill and Dunbar-Ortiz. Dunbar-Ortiz concludes very much as Kautzer does,” namely, that we both believe the positions and policies of the NRA’s Harlon Carter intended to empower “racial enforcer[s]”. You don’t give reasons for why this is not true, but you highlight it, presumably because you find it problematic. Finally, you conclude with a few straw man arguments. (1) “It’s not surprising, then, to find such consistency of thinking. As a sociologist of guns, I find myself divided between the obvious reality of racism in American society and the more dubious assertion that firearms therefore can only be seen as upholding a racially unequal social order.” Where does my essay or any of the other works you cite claim that firearms “can only be seen as upholding a racially unequal social order”? The key word here is “only,” of course, because it renders the claim impossible to agree with. (2) “Seeing firearms as “tools of white male pathogenesis” and “lethal prosthetics of white identity” casts racially diverse gun owners in the role of “Acting White.” Which strikes me as, what’s the word? Paternalistic.” What’s so interesting about this claim, for which you provide no textual evidence and for which you certainly would not find any, is that it is literally the inverse of the argument of my essay. Or said another way, one of my critiques of Richard Hofstadter concerns his paternalism toward the Black Panthers:
One problematic conclusion that follows from Hofstadter’s explanation concerns the community-defense practices of groups like the Black Panthers. Rather than understand them as a response to real threats of civilian and law enforcement vigilantism, he views practices of armed community defense as self-defeating and the result of faulty thinking—of subscribing to the “mythology about the protective value of guns.” The Panthers’ “accumulations of arms have thus far proved more lethal to themselves than to anyone else,” he writes. “Militant young blacks,” he continues, are, in general, merely “borrowing the white man’s mystique” by taking up arms.Kautzer, “America as a Tactical Gun Culture”
Lastly, I just want to reiterate that my essay is long and I would not fault readers for overlooking a thing or two, but your conclusion would be impossible to draw if you read my other Boston Review essay “A Political Philosophy of Self-Defense” (2018) which is almost entirely about communities of color justifiably taking up arms. Unfortunately, the algorithm didn’t recommend it to you.
I hope these comments, however imperfect, help clear up some things for you, Prof. Yamane. Thanks again for engaging my work. For what it’s worth, I would be honored by, and certainly benefit from, you giving reasons to reject any of the claims I make in my essay.