I’ve been lying to myself, I think, for a long time now.
I have a personal aversion to the use of force or coercion against my fellow man. It’s a moral thing, and a philosophical thing. I firmly believe that as rational beings it is our right to live free from force or threat of force, therefore I don’t engage in either of the two. This is not the lie, this is true.
I’ve thought this way, implicitly, longer than I’ve been capable of properly articulating those thoughts. I’ve never been in a fight; not a real one. Sure, when I was a kid I engaged in a few minor dust-ups but they were both (yeah, two of them) half-hearted and quickly concluded by a lack of desire to continue more than any manner of actual resolution.
In my life, my few significant conflicts have been resolved in one of three ways; negotiating resolution, surrounding myself with loyal friends who make continued conflict appear unappealing to an aggressor, or an appeal to an authority figure.
This isn’t a passivism thing. I understand that there are times where force is warranted; such as in situations where one is obliged to act in self-defense because no authority figure is present to intervene. The initiation of force, though, is simply not within my rights as a citizen of a free country. It’s a crime. In fact, one could argue it’s the crime, the only crime; the application or threat of force as a violation of consent.
As citizens of a country where all men are created equal and each bears the same rights of life, liberty and property, to maintain a moral a philosophical consistency we must surrender the use of force to our government. That is, we let our police handle situations where force is necessary.
That’s the governments primary job, after all; to defend its citizens from force through the use of retaliatory force as outlined in a code of conduct or laws. That is; to defend the rights to life, liberty and property of its citizens from aggressors both foreign and domestic. Some would argue that’s a proper governments only job, but that’s a different discussion.
Other than a few pragmatic concessions, such as taxation, that’s what I believe. That’s how I live. And up until recently that’s what I believed others believed and how others lived. If not in an explicitly moralistic sense, then at least implicitly since most of us don’t go around starting fights to get our way.
As a personal adherent to the principles that force is bad and that humans as rational beings are inherently possessing of the right to exist free of force, these principles would apply to all people, not just Americans. Similarly, one might assume that a government founded on the principles that “All men are created equal” and are endowed with the same rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” would also apply those principles to all people, not just to its citizens.
That’s the lie that I’ve been telling myself. That people, and by extension the government, are inherently reasonable.
The country is changing, fast. Mind-bogglingly fast. The rapidity of these changes leads me to conclude that none of what I’m seeing is new, it’s not necessarily the fault of the current administration. It’s something that’s been boiling beneath the surface for a long time. It just needed a little shake-up to catalyze an eruption and, boom.
Suddenly, we’re talking about mass deportations, stop-and-frisk policies, gag orders and other violations of personal freedoms against peoples domestic and foreign; all perpetrated by the government which maintains the sole purpose of protecting its citizens (and per the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, immigrants, legal or otherwise) from those exact things. Worse, these infringements are being perpetrated under the justification that they are required to ensure that safety. Surely the contradiction there is evident?
Those aren’t the things which are bothering me today, though. We’ve known those things were coming ever since November. If you want to read about someone lamenting the rights abuses perpetrated by the American government, just push the “I Feel Lucky” button on Google. You’ve got a solid 60% chance.
No, today we’re gonna talk about this!
That’s right, Nazi punchin’.
On January 20th, 2017, prominent dickhead Richard Spencer was clocked in the noggin by an unidentified man while right in the middle of claiming that he had no friends because even racists don’t like him. Less than a week later, Indiana Jones, Jr. was arrested following an ambiguously physical altercation while rebuffing the argument that “Hitler did nothing wrong.” The two events in relatively rapid succession kicked off a whole array of fanfare and Nazi-punching memes.
A relatively wise man said to me recently, “Adam, I’m not worried about what Trump is going to do next. The next big thing we need to worry about is someone on the Left doing something big and stupid.”
Argue all you want about the worrisome nature of the Trump administration, the latter half of that quote is what I want to focus on; because I don’t think it’s wrong, and Nazi punching is how it happens. This is the part where people stop reading.
Nazism (that looks wrong but my spell checker insists it’s right… Not Nazism, but the way it’s spelled… My computer isn’t a Nazi. I don’t think… Anyway…) is an idea. It’s a terrible abhorrent idea which I can’t say enough bad things about, but it’s still just an idea up to and until the point when it becomes forceful action. Which means we can’t go around punching Nazi’s just because they are Nazi’s. That’s not how it works in a free country.
Part of being free is the freedom to be ignorant and wrong and say stupid terrible things. We must respect that. We don’t have to respect the stupid and terrible things and we can absolutely talk over them, but we must respect the principle of free speech whether we agree with what’s being said or not.
America is the land of the Free and the home of the Brave. That’s what the song says. I’ve always liked that pairing, it’s always felt appropriate because you can’t have one without the other. Freedom is scary. Freedom requires bravery because it means that just as much as you’re a free to have ideas, other people are free to disagree with you. Loudly. You have to be brave to be free. You have to accept that freedom might mean ideas you disagree with may become popular, you have to accept that it means people who are different from you, or speak a different language than you, or vote for the candidate you hate might be your neighbors or co-workers; Freedom doesn’t always go your way and you have to accept that you can’t force that to change without sacrificing freedom as a moral principle.
That’s why, sadly, we can’t go around punching Nazis, or even cheer on the people who do, despite how badly said Nazis deserve it. We can’t popularize the use of force against ideas we don’t agree with, otherwise we become just as bad as what we’re fighting against. Cheering the Nazi punchers on is just encouraging the “next big thing” that wise man was worried about. And we don’t want that.
But there’s another layer of perplexing frustration to this whole situation.
Perhaps more frightening than the resurgence of Nazism and white supremacy or the growing popularity of punching those same Nazis and white supremacists is the all-pervasive trend of anti-truth. I wrote before about the notion of “alternative facts” being a weapon brandished against reality itself, but the problem is much, much bigger than simply some spooky skeleton on TV choking out lies. For some reason, the world (or at least this country) has decided that science is out to get them. That, somehow, all these scientists are raking in the big bucks by lying to us about everything from climate change, to the food we eat, to medicines we use to keep half the population from dying.
And there’s no talking them out of it. You can’t cite the science, because science is a conspiracy. You can’t cite the experts, because the experts are paid shills. You can’t even cite personal experience, because then you’re the paid shill (Someone let Hillary Clinton know she’s owes me a ton of money). Everything to these people is just lies, wrapped in untruth, deep-fried in conspiracy and garnished with a side of elitist fiction.
I’ve made a lot of really well reasoned arguments in my life, but the fact is, looking back I don’t know that I’ve ever convinced anyone of anything, ever. In fact, I’d say the harder I tried, the more entrenched in the original position my counterparts have become. And now people just like that are not only in charge of the country, but virtue of their electoral victory have only been confirmed in their righteousness by true believers.
That’s terrifying. Knowing that no matter how hard I try to approach an untruth in a rational, reasonable manner, that my chances of making a difference somehow get smaller the more well thought out my argument is.
So, you punch a Nazi… Because what other recourse do you have? How do you fight an enemy that can’t be fought?