Ok. It’s been a week and I think I’ve started to wrap my head around the US political… situation enough to get stuck in. I promise I won’t dwell on Trump too much this year, but jesus people he’s a god damn gold mine.
Gonna ease into it by addressing one of the reactions that’s cropped up recently to Trump and co, namely, punching Nazis in the face.
So the dude getting coldcocked up there is named Richard B. Spencer, and he’s an arsehole. Specifically, he’s one of the many far-right white-supremacists that rode the Trump train to prominence over the last couple of years and have seized on his subsequent election as a source of legitimacy for their views. This dude is a flat-out unrepentant racist, is the de facto leader of the alt-right and has more than once thrown up the ol’ Nazi salute and yelled “Hail Trump” (not by accident this time). As far as we know he has no ties to or endorsement by Trump, but neither has Trump condemned him which, given the circumstances, basically qualifies as acceptance of the guys views.
Is Mr Spencer a Nazi? Well that depends on how you define the term, but for the purposes of the discussion he’s plenty close enough. He calls for, and I’m quoting, “peaceful ethnic cleansing”, so we’re talking full-blown advocate to endanger/’cleanse’ several million people here. If ever there was a dude deserving a punching, here he is.
And a very punchable face it is too.
So when an unidentified man ambushed this shitheel with a well-deserved suckerpunch, plenty of people were pretty happy about it – particularly those from the left side of politics who are most opposed to his ideals and who would be most quickly under his jackboot if he ever came to power.
All of which was pretty god damn ironic, and not a little disturbing, because if you cut away the details here what we have is an act of political violence, designed to suppress, silence and/or physically cripple the opposition.
Y’know, the sort of thing you’d expect from Nazis.
And here we have a surprisingly large number of left-wingers, ie. the people who are meant to be all about cultural tolerance, education, rehabilitation and other progressive ideals, cheering it on without a hint of self awareness.
So what gives?
Let’s clear a couple of things up right away: I do not oppose the punching of Nazis on the basis that ‘violence is bad’. We’ve discussed the ethics of violence on here before and the simple fact of the matter is that, despite the harm it causes, violence is sometimes not only necessary, but outright the correct choice to make. As a utilitarian the question isn’t what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but rather ‘what is the best solution to the problem’ – if violence is that best solution then it is the ethical thing to do, because anything else would be worse. Ironically enough the best example of this are the original Nazis, who made it quite clear that non-violent protest was not something they were receptive to, and thus made war the only viable response.
I am also not opposed to punching Nazis because of any concern for their wellbeing, or any inherent ‘right to safety’. Such rights are quite compelling generally speaking, but at the end of the day they’re just simple deontological rules, and there will always be exceptions to such rules. In this case in particular we’re talking about a group that is explicitly saying they do not respect any ‘right to safety’ for millions of non-white peoples – so why should we respect the rights of Nazis when doing so could enable them to endanger those same rights for so many others?
See also; ‘using appeals to freedom of speech to howl down people who disagree with me’.
As we’ll get to in a sec, I’m completely opposed to the idea of physically threatening or outright murdering Nazis, but that is not to say that I can’t see the benefits of such a solution – based on the factual falseness of Richard B. Spencer’s beliefs, his enthusiasm and increasing capacity to makes those ideals a reality despite the lack of facts, and the historical results of such policies (ie. genocide), the world would be a significantly better place without him. As such, options to make him disappear are indeed quite appealing.
So why the opposition to punching Nazi’s then? Pretty simple really; it won’t bloody work. In fact it’ll make things significantly worse.
There are three reasons that left wingers should not be punching Nazis in the face, nor accepting (let alone celebrating) those that do;
1. It won’t bloody well work
Ok so you’ve identified a particular piece of garbage like Mr Spencer and manage to sock him one right in his big stupid face. He definitely deserves it and you probably feel pretty good about yourself – assuming of course that you get away with it.
But what have we actually achieved here? What actually were you trying to achieve by this action and did it work? Will it make Mr Spencer change his mind? Nope. This is a full blown intellectual racist we’ve got here; he takes all opposition as proof he’s right, and getting hit for his beliefs will be seen as the ultimate vindication. The asshat probably quoted Gandhi afterwards.
Never has a quote been used by such diverse and conflicting causes. And the bugger never even said it in the first place.
Ok but maybe smacking him will get him to keep his rancid mouth shut for 5 bloody minutes, and anything that keeps this prick from spreading his hate is worth it, right? But once again you seem to have missed the fact that this guy is a unrepentant racist who thrives on criticism and attention in general. Before this incident happened I had no idea who he was, and now you, me and half the western world knows too. That’s attention that this guy was not getting before. If you don’t think he’ll see this as a victory then you’re kidding yourself.
Ok so maybe our masked puncher was more hardcore than expected and was hoping to put Spence out of commission for a while, or possibly for good – that extreme yet understandably appealing option we discussed above. Well problem with that is that it failed, didn’t it? Mr Fuckface is no doubt quite sore, but he’s already up and railing against the ‘domestic terrorist’ that smacked him, milking the ‘law and order’ angle for all it’s worth. Maybe the puncher was looking to take him out permanently, and just stuffed up the job, but frankly succeeding would have actually made things even worse, and that brings us to reason number 2…
2. Nazis are better at punching than us
So right now we have a right-wing demagogue in control of the world’s most powerful nation, who has consistently described himself as “the law and order candidate“, and who has very little respect for the concept of peaceful protest to say the least. Left wing groups are already terrified that he’s going to use his newfound power to try to squash dissent to protect his pride, and guess what our masked puncher has just done? He’s given Trump an excuse.
Look at this scene and imagine the victims was someone you agreed with, peacefully explaining their political views to the media when a masked man comes out of nowhere and decks him. What’s your reaction going to be? Fear, anger and a demand for justice/security all come to mind and rightly so. So what our puncher has done here, other than give Mr Spencer a sore face and made himself feel good, is provide the now in-power right wing with a legitimate example of dangerous political violence that needs to be stopped. If you don’t think they’ll see that as an opportunity to use the ‘law and order’ excuse to strengthen their control over the populace you haven’t been following politics for the last decade or two.
Worse, combine this with Trump’s tendency to lump entire groups of people in with small criminal elements within them, and you’ve now given him a mandate not just to go after militant leftists like the Black Bloc that rioted recently, but to the entire political wing they are part of – note that even the newspapers describe them as “Anti-Trump protesters”. People pay attention to that.
All of which leads us to the real danger here: Nazis punch better than we do. Lefties may fight if we have to or if we get really angry, but fighting is core policy for a Nazi. It’s not just completely acceptable, it’s flat out encouraged and they are more ruthless, organised and better funded and equipped than the left ever will be. Remember how I mentioned that Mr Spencer is already up and railing against the ‘domestic terrorist’ that smacked him? Well he didn’t stop there; he and his his cronies have posted a bounty on the puncher’s head. That’s a move I personally would never have even considered, and I doubt many lefties would have either because they lack the ideological brutality, the comfort with violence and authority necessary to do such a thing.
Nazis do not.
And hesitance from the left brings us to point number 3:
3. It’s like fucking for virginity
I’ve said it before but apparently it needs repeating: you cannot bring about progressive values by resorting to backwards tactics. Utilitarianism may indeed suggest the means can be justified by the ends, but it is also true that the means we use determine what the ends we get look like – and guess what? Punching people to bring about about cultural tolerance, education and rehabilitation DOESN’T WORK. And as we like to say in the ethics field;
Irritatingly it does work for the Nazis though, because violence, fear and the authoritarian ‘security measures’ that follow do work towards their ideological goals. Because they’re shit, factually invalid goals. But when your aim is progress and enlightenment, all you’re doing is cutting yourself off at the knees.
We are not at war. We have not yet fallen to the point where we are forced to defend the safety of ourselves and others with brute violence. For now this remains a battle of ideals between two groups that will never convince each other to change their minds – but that’s not the point of the fight. The point is to win over the general public, the 43% of USA voters that looked at the last election and just said “bugger this for a joke” (or the north american equivalent anyway), and the increasingly large number of Australians that are sick to death of the major parties and looking for alternatives (since they have to vote here regardless). And news flash! Turns out viciously attacking your political opponents without warning or provocation makes you look like a thug! Because you are a thug! And bugger me if that doesn’t tend to tarnish everyone on your side of politics in the process, especially when so many of the mainstream left then stand up and applaud the thuggery.
Look at this. Look at it and tell me this isn’t the act of a coward and a thug. Is this what we support now?
The day may come, and it may come all too soon, where those of us on the side of justice, progress and science are forced to fight, kill and destroy in the defense of ourselves, others and yes, the ideals we believe to be true. It will be a dark day and it will not be celebrated, because in falling to that point we have already lost so very much of what we will be fighting for.
But we are not there yet. And if you believe in progress, science, justice, truth and ethics, then it is our utter duty to prevent us ever getting to that point. And most of all, we must never, NEVER contribute towards that fall, no matter how satisfied it may make us feel.