21 February 2017

The case against violence

There are differences of opinion over whether initiating violence (that is, committing violence other than in self-defense) has any proper role in our opposition to the dangerous fascists and bigots emboldened by the rise of Trumpism.  I'm not talking about violence or aggression against neutral or uninvolved persons, such as smashing store windows or blocking traffic -- such behavior must be avoided, and condemned unequivocally whenever it happens.  Not only is it wrong in itself, it can only turn its victims again the people perpetrating it.  Rather, I mean the kind of action exemplified by the much-debated Richard Spencer punch.  Neo-Nazis, KKK supporters, and the like advocate violence, or at least identify with ideologies notorious for using it.  Why not give them a taste of their own chosen medicine?

It's a question on which I personally haven't yet come to a conclusion.  Both sides have legitimate points to make.  Again, it's about dealing with extremist and dangerous groups, not the "ordinary" opposition.  This was terrorism; doing the same to the local KKK headquarters would be a more debatable act.

In this post, David Neiwert makes a powerful case for the anti-violence side of the argument.  It's long, but worth reading if you want to debate the issue in an informed way.  He makes the important further point that we have other weapons far more effective than violence, and those should be preferred even if you don't find violence morally troublesome.

I would make one final point of my own, not so much about our view of anti-fascist violence as about our judgment when some do commit it.  Never forget the magnitude of the provocation.  Confronting a Jewish person with swastika armbands, or confronting a black person with a Confederate flag, can fire up feelings of an intensity not easily understood by people who have no such horrors in recent historical memory.  These issues are not just abstractions.  Always remember that.


Blogger Tommykey said...

I haven't read Neiwert's piece yet, but am inclined to agree. It is my observation that extremists in two sides of a conflict often empower each other when they commit violence. Each side then feels justified in committing retaliation. When it reaches a certain scale, it squeezes the people in the middle until more and more agree that only all out violence is the answer.

21 February, 2017 08:36  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I always think it blurs the issues by allowing the bad guys to present themselves as victims, which leads to a lot of time and energy being wasted on debates which are fundamentally beside the point. I'm not saying it is never justified, but Neiwert's post makes a strong case.

22 February, 2017 04:36  
Blogger Rational Nation USA said...

The only justification for the use of physical force against another is as an act of self defense. When one initiates violence against another they forfeit the moral high ground.

Words are mightier than the sword. Ultimately.

23 February, 2017 16:26  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I don't think one can be so absolute. Pre-emptive violence is sometimes justified when it's clear that an attack is imminent, for example.

24 February, 2017 03:05  
Blogger Rational Nation USA said...

Good point Infidel. And a valid one. When it is clear a judgment call must be made I hope Trump is never the one making the judgment call.

24 February, 2017 15:08  

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