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|A view to a kill|
Paramilitary woo covers a broad range of ill advised activities, mostly men in subconscious combative-militaristic role play, involving grown men playing dress-up, self-titled community protector, arming up with dangerous weapons, stockpiling gear, hero-fantasy all mixed in with vigilantism or anti-government paranoia and always with total awesomeness. It is highly appealing to those who want to play legendary soldier without all that pesky training, discipline and responsibility that comes with it. It may be a method for compensating for personal inadequacies and social behavior problems by fulfilling a role which they assume brings respect. There are many avenues where paramilitary woo may lead misguided people down a path of obsessive hero fantasies resulting in obnoxious and even dangerous behaviour. Said behaviors range from civilians wearing army fatigues or samurai swords while spouting anti-government paranoia to jeep loads of unsanctioned and armed US-Mexico border patrol "volunteers" shooting at immigrants crossing the border.
This is the title of a book by James William Gibson documenting the rise of a paramilitary subculture in the United States after the Vietnam War. Much of this is a "wannabe" phenomenon, but Gibson additionally locates part of this subculture in a sense of lost national manhood following the U.S. loss in Vietnam. Men's "adventure magazines" such as Soldier of Fortune, Eagle, New Breed, Combat Arms, etc. proliferated during the 1970s and '80s. Gun nuts began to take interest in firearms well beyond normal levels, favoring black, military-looking, semi-automatic rifles and handguns over grandpa's old wood-grain shotgun and hunting rifle, and viewing guns primarily as weapons rather than tools. This often shades over into crime woo, exaggerating the threat of crime and the need for self-defense as a rationalization. Survivalism has persisted for at least four decades as a subculture, sometimes rooted in realistic preparedness concerns but just as often rooted in paranoia, conspiracy theories, and/or (most commonly) fantasies about single-handedly fighting off the hordes after the collapse of civilization.
On a more juvenile level, mall ninjas are people, usually teenage boys, who fantasize about and pretend to have a vast knowledge of exotic weaponry, martial arts, special operations, counter-terrorism, mercenaries, and/or SWAT. "Mall ninja" is a neologism from the Internet, but the phenomenon goes back much further and has often been spoofed in popular culture; for example, in the 1984 teen comedy The Wild Life. Whackers are similar to mall ninjas, but more oriented towards emergency/rescue services (fire, EMT), CB and ham radio, and law enforcement.
While mall ninjas, gun nuts, whackers, and survivalists may not be particularly mystical, there is a different phenomenon of those who believe being a warrior is a spiritual path. The actual spiritual views can vary widely, but it can be found in such disparate places as the men's movement (where such books as King, Warrior, Magician, Lover were influential), Asatru, Shinto, whites taking up Native American woo, and Christians who see themselves as part of God's end times army engaged in both spiritual warfare and carnal warfare against the forces of darkness. (The Church at Kaweah may be an example of this. The Aryan Nations definitely were, and Christian Identity in general may qualify as well.) It also includes more generic forms of mysticism in which those who see themselves on this "path" attempt to study and tap into concepts like ki, or obsess over and find higher spiritual meaning in the guerrilla warfare writings of Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, or in Sun Tzu's book The Art of War, the latter influenced by Taoism.
Martial arts woo
A significant subset of paramilitary mysticism is found in the martial arts, especially in anything claiming to be about ninjutsu, where books and videos claim to teach the secrets of "Ninja death touch" and "Ninja mind control". These are invariably full of bullshit, but there is always a ready audience for them. The Book of Five Rings, a classic martial arts text, has a similar role here as The Art of War does above. Daydreaming about ninja glory and collecting ninja stars is likely the lazy route for those who don't have the stamina and patience for studio style martial arts training.
- See main article: bodybuilding woo
Another area of crossover interest is in the field of sham bodybuilding techniques and products, the better to build those huge muscles with which to hold that AK-47 as you mow down the bad guys or, better yet, karate chop them with your super-mystical warrior powers. Broscience, dietary supplements, performance-enhancing drugs, and some truly amazing products which are guaranteed to
work waste your money.
A left-wing variant of this can be found among teenagers and college students, most commonly suburban white kids, who get into what is euphemistically called "anarchy", although it often has little to nothing to do with any real, coherent anarchist or even leftist theory. In this case, "anarchy" simply means explosives, guns, and drugs. William Powell's The Anarchist Cookbook, Kurt Saxon's The Poor Man's James Bond, Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, and countless knockoffs and text files remain the perennial underground classics here.
If they do get any level of interest or involvement in politics, chances are it will be rather shallow, and focused primarily on radicalism for its own sake to shock one's parents and teachers. The old stereotype is of a brand of leftism rooted in a mix of punk rock, Public Enemy, and Rage Against the Machine lyrics, idolization of Che Guevara and other revolutionaries, and a surface-level reading of popular leftist writers like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Slavoj Žižek, without acquiring any deeper investment in or understanding of such subject matter. If they're feeling more iconoclastic, or think that all that leftist stuff about "community" and "the people" goes against their sense of rugged individualism, then Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Heinlein, Ender's Game, and Anton LaVey, as well as various aspects of hacker/cyberpunk culture, may also be in order to produce an equally shallow libertarianism. In recent years, the alt-right has also emerged as a player in the "youth revolutionary fantasy" stakes, with ideologues like Julius Evola and Francis Parker Yockey, who glorify war, violence, patriarchy, and ethnic nationalism as the foundation of a masculine spirituality, appealing to a segment of young people (especially young white men) with a chip on their shoulder concerning women and minorities. The macho revolutionary Tyler Durden from the Chuck Palahniuk novel (and later film) Fight Club is a famous pop-culture example of this, his ideas often parroted unironically by people who missed the obvious fact that he was ultimately portrayed as aimless, hollow, and offering no solutions to the men who followed him.
This phenomenon is not unique to the West. In the Middle East and in Muslim communities abroad, it has been argued that many of the young people who join terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and DAESH are motivated by a very similar impulse. A survey of 49 DAESH fighters in Syria and Iraq revealed a range of motivations for joining them, but many of them, especially those recruited from Western countries, said that it stemmed from an identity crisis and anger at a Western culture that they felt hated them, with DAESH providing a nice, prepackaged identity for them to adopt wholesale. This lines up with what studies of spree killers have suggested about their motivations. While individual grievances often differ wildly, a running theme is a sense of alienation from a world that they feel is conspiring to keep them down.
Films in the "action/adventure" genre have long promoted the image of the lone vigilante, invariably a man depicted holding an M16, M60, Uzi, AKM, or some other automatic weapon, singlehandedly cleansing the world of some bad guys. The subtext of this could be analyzed several ways. Both feminist theory and psychology might view this in terms of phallic imagery and compensation, while a socio-political analysis could see this as an attempt at indicting the government for not doing what it should have, e.g. cleaning up crime, winning the Vietnam War, bringing home the POW-MIAs, etc. because liberals held them back from doing so. Popular films of this sort number in the hundreds, with the most notorious remaining two stinkers from the mid-1980s, Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Red Dawn, the latter having been remade with
China North Korea as the invaders rather than the Soviets.
The trajectory of this sort of action film over the decades is an interesting study in itself. They went from a proliferation of war movies after World War II depicting team-oriented action, to films depicting suave, sophisticated individuals who still worked for the government but in a lone role, such as James Bond, to vigilante films depicting someone taking action outside the law and going against the wishes of the government. The latter began as left-wing slanted films like Billy Jack and Shaft, reflecting the cynicism of the New Left towards the government over Vietnam and segregation. The mainstreaming of this cynicism post-Watergate saw the rise of politically neutral or muddled films like Walking Tall. Finally, the rise of Reaganism in the early 1980s saw explicitly right-wing themes rise to prominence, which have remained the norm in the genre since. James William Gibson, in the aforementioned book Warrior Dreams, notes this shift from team-oriented to individual vigilante-oriented themes in film as well, and places them in the context of the waning of the Vietnam War. (Gibson, though, skips the early left-wing period of these films — which interestingly came out while the Vietnam War was still going on — and begins with 1974's Death Wish.)
Normal hero daydreaming
In itself there is little wrong with enjoying the hero narrative or vigilante fantasy. Such memes are common element in films, novels and even high culture such as operas. Those with higher than normal hero fixation and fantasies or paramilitary drive would better serve themselves (and everyone else) by enlisting in the military or police academy. Those who cannot accept the established system could just as easily join a paintball association or a local dojo.
- Gibson, James William. Warrior Dreams: Violence and Manhood in Post-Vietnam America. Hill & Wang Pub., 1994, ISBN 978-0809015788
- Here's an archived copy of the original "mall ninja" thread that coined the term.
- IMDb: The Wild Life (1984)
- Moore, Robert and Douglas Gillette. King, Warrior, Magician, Lover (ISBN 978-0062506061) Mostly an assortment of woo about "dream analysis, meditation, Jungian 'active imagination' and ritual processes" as tools for rediscovering one's "masculine selfhood".
- When he's not being used as a left-wing icon; see "Revolutionary Fantasies".
- This website has a large collection of, among other things, assorted "Anarchy" and "Jolly Roger" cookbooks. Warning: Do not try any of the things you read in there at home. They were written by the precursors to 4chan, and are of, at best, questionable effectiveness.
- Kessel, John. "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality." International Review of Science Fiction Vol. 33 Number 90, Spring 2004.
- Tucker, Patrick. "Who Joins ISIS? How Fighters Respond When You Ask Them." The Atlantic, 9 December 2015 (recovered 28 May 2017).
- Welsh, Jennifer. "Scientists Explain What Makes A Mass Murderer." Business Insider, 20 July 2012 (recovered 28 May 2017).