Jan 232017

I’m a big fan of Malcolm X. In fact, I used to think I supported violence-as-a-solution more than most people, and stayed quiet about those beliefs out of shame. Richard Spencer being punched has proven me wrong.

Race riots were acceptable & necessary because the law was on the side of racial oppression. That was an armed struggle against state-sponsored terrorism. The law supported and protected extra-judicial violence against black people.

The law is not on the side of the Nazis. In fact, the only law that IS on Richard Spencer’s side is the law guaranteeing freedom of speech. If our side is the one resorting to extra-judicial violence because we take issue with a law guaranteeing *freedom of speech*, we might need to take a serious look at ourselves.

Some people I know are saying that the law now IS on the side of the Nazis. I don’t see any evidence of this yet. Simply asserting “Trump loves Nazis” absolutely does not do it for me, because anyone can assert anything. I am, of course, worried that this will become the case. I was horrified when Trump called for a “2nd Amendment” solution to a Clinton win. But just as I would expect any decent person in the Republican party to say “Guys, that’s not OK,” I’m also willing to say that, until we see this happening, we shouldn’t be the first to resort to vigilante violence.

Yes, Spencer is a racist who advocates awful things. He organizes like-minded people and tries to rally them to political action. The Westboro Baptists so the same. So does the KKK. I think there’s better ways of handling this than anonymous beatings in the streets.

Spencer was literally on a public street, answering questions that an interested reporter was putting to him. Are we OK setting a precedent of walking up to two people engaged in a conversation and punching the one we dislike?

Germany has straight-up made Nazi rhetoric illegal. I think they’ve decided on a good tactic. I would be more than willing to at least seriously propose a similar law here in the US. Any system that protects ideologies that calls for its destruction is lacking a certain self-preservation instinct. It would have to be a careful law. But it is, at least, a good idea in the abstract. I would much rather live in a system where the law clearly carves out certain speech as unacceptable and Nazis face legal consequences, rather than having to live in a world of anarchy where I have to hope that I’m not on the wrong side of mob sentiment lest I be beaten and everyone decides to look the other way.

There will always be crazy fuckers with awful ideas. You discredit them, and you rely on the laws to protect us from their violence. The law is what holds them back. It’s when the law fails to do so that things are dangerous (see: the South, up until just a few decades ago). That’s why I become worried when people gleefully cheer at the failure of the law to protect people from violence. If you think beating someone in the street will effectively discredit them and keep public opinion on your side, well, I think that’s a bad way to influence public opinion.


Follow-up note: I’ve had one note of disagreement cleared up when it turned out me and a friend view a punch to the face as very different levels of violence. To me, it’s the first step to a beating, and the horrors that come with that. To them, it was merely the outside-level of a slap. I would not be nearly as horrified by a slap, or something symbolic like a thrown shoe. I see a lot more violence in a closed fist.

  13 Responses to “Too Soon For Vigilante Justice”

  1. It isn’t uncommon for someone sucker punched in the head to be KOed. And it isn’t uncommon for someone knocked out in the middle of a street to die when their head hits the pavement.

  2. I absolutely agree with you.

    There was a recent twitter poll where the two choices were something like:

    – It is never ok to punch a Nazi in the face
    – It is sometimes ok to punch a Nazi in the face

    Between those two, I land strongly on the latter. But maybe the mathematician in me prefers the non-absolute answer in nearly all situations.

    • Yeah, the correct answer is obviously the latter. If a Nazi is assaulting or murdering someone, for example, that’s a great time to punch them in the face.

    • A story I’m reading involves somebody feeding an inhabited planet to a black hole, and it was the right thing to do because all the alternatives were even worse.

      That’s an extreme example because fiction, but of *course* it’s “sometimes” okay. It’s sometimes okay to punch an innocent bystander. Not often, but not literally never.

  3. Agree all the way. I’m reminded of something Eliezer wrote:

    “And it is triple ultra forbidden to respond to criticism with violence. There are a very few injunctions in the human art of rationality that have no ifs, ands, buts, or escape clauses. This is one of them. Bad argument gets counterargument. Does not get bullet. Never. Never ever never for ever.”

    A bad argument shouldn’t get a fist either. If your beliefs are so fragile that you have to use violence to protect them from words, then maybe you need to rethink your beliefs.

    • See, I totally 100% agree that punching Spencer was unnecessary and stupid and probably not born out of rational assessment of the options, and indicative of a potential problem with the left wing refusing to learn to lose and escalating the culture war into extremely dangerous territory. By far the easiest way to set up an honest-to-goodness fascist regime in the US would be to keep media attention on outbreaks of violence and massively increase policing to “keep the peace.”

      Buuuuuut. Fascism seems like it might be technically in a very small class of not-really-exceptions-but-kinda to the rule, simply because it’s an ideology of Strength and Martial Capability and Being Tough and so forth. Getting smacked down seems like good evidence against the claim “sticks in a bundle cannot be broken.” Oh look, they could be in the 1940s and they still can be now. So in this case, violence is a counterargument by demonstration. It’s a pretty weak counterargument, though, especially relative to the downsides.

  4. I feel like violence is important. Maybe not useful but an important part of the conversation. Nazi speech is inheritly violent. It is not the same as violence but it is of a kind with it. Sometimes people need to be reminded of that.

    Now ideally that would be through a through understanding of facts and respect for the truth. Failing that getting punched in the face isn’t so bad.

    • I don’t see what you mean that speech is violent. Especially when someone isn’t even talking to you but instead talking to a reporter.

      Violence means that someone is getting attacked. And getting attacked means that you can’t ignore it and go somewhere else or even ignore it and stay where you are. These protesters had those options and most of them used them, that was all correct. The only thing incorrect was someone punching him in the face.

      “If our side is the one resorting to extra-judicial violence because we take issue with a law guaranteeing *freedom of speech*, we might need to take a serious look at ourselves.” I completely agree with Eneasz there. I think almost everyone should be able to find counterarguments for things nazis say. And for those that can’t .. well.. they probably should just follow someone who can, I guess?

      • Violence is defined by the World Health Organization as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or …”

        You are right in the sense of the dictionary, but violence is more nuanced than that. A guy gettiing nazi speach on tv is the use of power to create psychological harm at the very least. Thr hard part is the math. Just how violent is the speach? Mildly. How violent is it that the media rebroadcast that nationwide? Exponentally more. I would argue that the total violence done by that is more than one guy getting punched in the face.

        Further the punching him in the face is almost self defence.

        I agree this breaks down in terms of “speach you don’t agree with”. But that is a false equalivance. Thus is “objectively false speach ment to do violence” which really ought to be a separate catagory.

        • Is that the same argument people use when they set other peoples cars on fire? That this is the better alternative to physically attacking them and it’s in self defense because they feel threatened by people who own cars when they don’t?
          There’s so many people dying in accidents that we should probably view it as a good thing when a few cars get burned. And it helps the economy too, I guess.

          I bet this is what the nazis say too. That they feel threatened by strange people invading the land they live in so they’re basically using violence in self defence.

          I just see it as a huge problem when you try to defend your side using violence and disagree with the other side using it. Because they can and will do exactly the same. And they did so in the past. Don’t lower yourself to that level.

          • There has to some bias for what is rationally true. I agree that in a post modern world what you say is right. But the presence of a rationally derived objective truth as to privilage some actions right?

            The fact of the matter is that in the situation the man had no other recourse. If he was as good atrhetoric as the guy on tv, not likely, his comments would likely be edited out.

            The argument is that nazi speach is objectivly wrong and harmful. Literally violent by the un defination. There are well researched reasons but I think we cna agree that actual real science shows that is true. And a man exercised the only power he could to limit violence he was witnessing.

            • So, what if that guy had security or something preventing him from being punched?
              Would it have been okay to shoot him? Snipe him from a rooftop to avoid being caught, since his action is right and just and all that? At this point I’m just curious how far you are ready to allow for violence.

              I am very glad to live in a country where guns are a lot less prevalent but the way I see it in the US this is not the case. Because I’m not worried about getting shot by someone with a different political opinion. Are you? Should your political enemies be afraid of that (not necessarily from you personally but from someone else with your opinions)?

              Or maybe I simply don’t get the mentality that attack is the best defense and you should shoot first to survive. I mean, I get the idea but I don’t want to see it applied.

            • I think you would agree there might be a time that speach is so dangerous that would be appropriate. In this case no.

              I didn’t mean it as a specific endorsement of violence as a way to handle speach. Even violent speach. But I was ment that as a genral defence of the man in this situation specifically. He made what he felt was his best decision, probably at the spur of the mommet.

              Had he a proper option to engage the situation with speach it would of been better but he didn’t really.
              His action has obviously been successful in a way that no amount of his speach was goinging to be.
              This is mainly the fualt of the media but if they weren’t broad casting violent speach in the first place thisbwouldn’t have been necessary at all.

              Plus it isn’t like he even really hurt thre guy, a poorly thrown punch to the face is not at all like shooting him.

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