Around 11:30 in this segment, Linda Lutton reports what is surely meant to be devastating revelation to people like you and me, people who catch bits of This American Life on the radio on the way to Whole Foods. In Chicago’s South Side, you don’t join a gang. You’re just in one. You live on this block? That corner? That’s your gang. You haven’t got any choice in the matter. You can’t just be neutral.
In fact, right up the road, there are surely some very smart political scientist sorts at the University of Chicago who, despite Hume’s best warnings, will tell you all about the Social Contract and elucidate the principle of tacit consent.
Obviously in this context the idea is laughable. These kids didn’t agree to this. They didn’t make the informed decision to subordinate themselves to some group based on some principle of geographic destiny. Still, they belong.
Meanwhile, the gangs, it’s fair to say, have some mechanism of governance and decision making, even though the absence of an absolute monarch leads the reporter and the various official interlocutors to proclaim the groups “leaderless” and anarchic. The gangs protect kids on the way to school, confer identity, have habits and traditions, allies and enemies, practices and policies.
And they have guns. And violence is a tool of statecraft. What, after all, is a drone strike if not a drive-by shooting? In either case, obscure intelligence suggests that some person who may or may not be whom someone thinks he is and may or may not be affiliated with a group with whom we are currently in something like conflict may or may not be at a certain place at a certain time, and so we shoot in that general direction, and whomever we hit should’ve known better, been elsewhere, been someone else, had a better father.