I wanted to do a red state-blue state blog post dialog with her on how weird this may - or may not - seem, depending on your political and cultural sensibilities. But the subject didn't interest her. Yeah, yoga teachers with guns. Lots of conservatives around here. So what's new? Not inspiring.
Now I find that CBS produced a little human interest news segment on (female) yoga teachers and moms who like to shoot:
I find this fascinating.There is so much that's so important packed into this subject, it's hard to know where to start. But I'll just mention a few:
Feminism. Bracketing the yoga teacher part for the moment, is this whole trend of women toting guns empowering to women? A recent book, Chicks with Guns, reports that 15-20 million American women own their own firearms. And they love them. "When you get outside of the blue-state cities," explains author Lindsay McCrum, "everybody has a gun.” Shit. Really?
For those of us who associate guns more with criminals, right-wingers, and survivalists than hunters and skeet shooters, that seems pretty scary. But of course, the counter-argument is that guns enable women to protect themselves, and are therefore empowering. One conservative blog on "The Changing Demographics of Gun Ownership" made precisely this point, posting these provocative photos:
Politics and Culture. Statistics show that American gun ownership is disproportionately concentrated among conservative, white, non-urban men (although, as these recent stories about the growing popularity of guns among other demographic groups such as women show, this may be changing). Here's a table reporting on a 2005 Gallup poll:
As Gallup explains, the stereotype of a gun owner being "a white male, most likely Republican, living in a rural area of the South" is essentially true. "While many Americans who don't fit that demographic profile do own guns, the likelihood of owning a gun is higher among people with these demographic characteristics."
So, as someone who's really not into white male dominated, conservative Southern politics, guns carry a lot of negative political and cultural associations - and the data show that these are well-founded.
Buddhists & Yogis with Guns. While it's impossible to say how prevalent it is, it's certainly likely that just as the number of women owning guns is rising, so is the acceptance of gun ownership in the American (convert) Buddhists and yoga communities. When researching this post, I came across the following picture from a blog post on "Buddhists with Guns":
The blogger, Justin Whitaker, notes that "Well, for the record, that’s a yoga instructor (sister), mechanic (brother), and Buddhist scholar (me)":
Growing up in rural Montana – about 10 miles north of Helena, the capital city, neighbors had horses, dirt road, cactus in the back yard – we were introduced to guns fairly early in life. I think I skipped the “you’ll shoot your eye out!” bb-gun that many friends were getting and moved on to a pump-action single shot pellet-gun around the age of 8.So . . . urban blue-stater that I am, I get that. I understand that guns are not necessarily evil. I think that it can be fun to shoot, say, beer cans (which I've done, and enjoyed). And while I personally would never want to hunt, I'm completely OK with people who hunt for food (as opposed to sport. I definitely have ethical problems with that).
I can also imagine living in circumstances where carrying a gun for self-defense might feel justified - e.g., impoverished rural areas where you're worried about being jumped by meth addicts and know that law enforcement or even other people are likely to be far away.
That said, in the bigger picture, I'm not happy about the whole women-with-guns, yoga-teachers-with-guns, Buddhist-scholars-with-guns sensibility at all. Really, I think it's just another unfolding of the dismaying logic of:
- Yoga and meditation have become much more mainstream.
- The mainstream has become much more right-wing.
- Therefore, more people involved with yoga, meditation, mindfulness, Buddhism, etc. are folding those practices into conservative-to-right wing politics. (Witness, of course, the recent Ayn Rand promo by Lululemon.)
Some will say that yoga, meditation, etc. have their own cultural logic in which guns have nothing to do with right-wing politics. For example, when YogaDork posted on the CBS piece referenced above, her one commentator sanguinely suggested that yoga teachers who love to shoot guns is "no different then practicing aikido (a Japanese martial art) or Kyudo (zen archery)."
Um, well, sure - in some cases, that may be true. (It's also true, however, that we don't necessarily want to replicate many of the politics historically connected with, for example, Zen.) But considered as a broad cultural movement, it's not. Instead, what it means is that American yoga is starting to be "rebranded" as something that's no longer associated with cultural liberalism. (If you read the comments on yoga blogs that attract more conservative types, you'll see that there's many out there who're eager to push it in a more right-wing direction.)
Which is why I think that those who'd like to see yoga and meditation as vehicles for realizing a different type of cultural and political sensibility in North America need to step up and speak out. Many, of course, are. (Witness Seane Corn's and Michael Stone's engagement with the Occupy movement.) But there needs to be more.
I think that when it comes to feminism, politics, culture, yoga, and Buddhism, in the final analysis the most important point is that we desperately need inspiring alternatives to the dominant (and growing) view that it's just great to embrace guns as a means of empowerment. The more that people like women and yoga teachers, who've traditionally been more committed to creating other alternatives, instead shift to celebrating the power of the gun, the more impoverished our culture will be, and the more dangerous our world will become.