“When confronted with someone who literally thinks blacks are subhuman and should be killed off en masse, what is the appropriate response? […] Simply treating someone as an equal participant in the public sphere legitimates them. And given that they are speaking boldly in public, they are not susceptible to public shaming — indeed, they take great pride in violating the taboos of acceptable opinion, believing it to be a brave and noble act.”
The above paragraph comes from a blog post written by Adam Kotsko in regard to Nazi and alt-right leader, Richard Spencer, recently being punched while giving a TV interview.
I tend to think of myself as an aggressive peacemaker, and take a position (based mainly on my personal religious convictions) of being anti-death toward all humans; i.e. I reject most of the reasons put forth for why we should kill humans, especially the punitive reasons. That said, I am also distrustful of very abstract totalising moral platitudes; case in point: someone claiming they’re “non-violent.” I don’t use that label for myself anymore (although I used to). I’m not “non-violent.” I participate in some degree of violence daily. I think Whitehead is right that “whether or not it be for the general good, life is robbery.”
I think Adam does a really good thing in his blog post attempting to draw attention away the universal moral platitude of “non-violence-no-matter-what” to instead focus on particulars; Spencer’s ideas are inherently violent/deadly to a few very specific groups of people, and thus these ideas should be squelched. The metaphor I often use here is when a doctor does all she can to eradicate an isolated instance of cancer we certainly do not condemn the doctor for doing all she can to physically eliminate the disease. But make no mistake, chemo-therapy is physically violent and destructive! For me the question we need to ask is not violence or no violence, but where to draw the line with use of violence…? And that’s a very hard question because each situation is so different, and many times there is no neutral concept of “peace” that both sides can agree to.
It’s hard to say how I (a hetro, middle-class white guy) would act in this situation. Obviously, Spencer’s hostility is not pointed in my white-guy direction (unless we count my 1/8 slice of Jewish heritage), but for minorities, people of color, the people this guy wants to violently oppress, it’s not so easy to call for “peaceful,” “loving” resolve; Spencer’s words essentially serve as the first punch. Defense is necessary. Would I tackle or punch him to make him stop talking? Maybe, if I was mad enough, I can’t say for sure. I DO think the punch IS symbolic in that it conveys a powerful message which communicates that this sort of hateful ideology is not tolerated and it WILL be resisted forcefully, and I’m glad this person did what they did. However, I have made a personal decision in my life to not use lethal violence (I think white men in this country have done enough killing! We should disarm ourselves and give up our power to kill and oppress.) and to try my very best to restrain myself when it comes to physically assaulting people who attack me, therefore I’m forced to think a bit differently about solving problems. So could the powerful message that this punch sent have been communicated another way, a way that is less physically violent? Perhaps. Maybe by using my body as an impediment, sacrificially (in the sense of inviting physical violence to be done to my person, but falling short of inflicting it on the other), forcefully, and deliberately lodging it between Spencer and the Camera, standing toe to toe with him, fearless in his face, forcing him to stare into the eyes of the other, and simultaneously obstructing the camera’s view so his message is not heard; I might even go so far as to smash the camera itself, or grab a trash can and continuously smash it on the sidewalk right next him, or rip the pepe pin off his lapel or spit in his face (or sneak up behind him and piss on him while he’s talking (now that would be humiliating, insulting and funny!). An alternative (but equally as provocative and illegal) symbolic act like this, executed in this particular situation, might have sent the equally forceful message of: “shut the fuck up!” But perhaps not. Who knows.
As I’ve written before, I would never dream of condemning a person who felt that they had no choice but to take another human life, or resort to physical violence to defend them self. If I ever found myself in a “kill or be killed” situation I would do all I could do to protect my loved ones, there might be physical violence (and maybe even enjoyment if I got the upper hand), and someone may indeed die. However, the only person I would feel guilty-less about sacrificing is myself. Again, as per my personal religious convictions, I feel that I am compelled to stand up for and die for what I love and believe in, but when it comes to degrees of violence that I inflict on other humans in particular situations, I do have to draw the line somewhere…we all do.