Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Violent, Dehumanizing Language Is For Fascists -- Don't Be A Fascist

Standing up to neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, 2017 took a lot of courage. Unite the Right will be back, this time in front of the White House, on August 11, 2018 in case you missed your chance last year.

It's been coming on for a while now, this pressure in my head about the proliferation of slogans on punching Nazis, and of the even more common practice of dehumanizing name-calling e.g. piece of shit, idiot, and so on.

I'm no philosopher, but here are some of the many reasons I disagree with these tactics.

1) They are not effective because they appeal mostly to people that already agree with the user. We're not trying to win over the people who already get it -- we're trying to win over the confused ones on the fence. Aren't we?

2) They are not effective because they make the user sound belligerent rather than intelligent. Belligerence is highly correlated with not being smart enough to understand the complexities of fake news and celebrity spokesman-style corporate government masking the realities that lie beneath. Do you really want to sound like the tweeter in chief?

3) They are not effective because violence is not a good tactic when winning hearts and minds is your goal. Which program did the Black Panthers consider their most important (and the white supremacists of their day considered the biggest threat?). Yup, free breakfasts for children.

4) They are not effective because they do nothing to withdraw support from the systems of violent oppression we're all living under. A women's strike would much more effectively halt the machinery of the white supremacist military-police state. Did you know that the Montgomery, Alabama bus strike was only planned to last for one day? Once the boycotters' power was demonstrated, though, the bandwagon effect was enormous.

How come the Nazi rocket scientists were not on trial in Nuremberg?

5) They are not effective because they tend to perpetuate a simplistic either-or model of understanding social trends or historical events. The U.S. military did not defeat the Nazis, the Russians did. (Our allies in WWII, remember?) The U.S. government turned away boatloads of Jewish refugees who died in concentration camps, knew about the Holocaust but allowed it to proceed anyway, and after tardily "liberating" the camps ran show trials at Nuremberg while quietly bringing Nazi rocket scientists to the USA.

The U.S. government also never tried Japanese war criminals for their heinous crimes against occupied people using sophisticated (at the time) biological weapons they had developed. Want to guess why not?

6) They are not effective because we are always in danger of becoming the thing that we love to hate. Or put another way, they focus our attention on unproductive emotions and drain off energy for devising or recognizing creative solutions to the mess we're in.

7) They are not effective because they're not educational. There are millions of people who have sworn by an ideology at one point in their lives and then changed their minds. Most members of Veterans for Peace, for example, would fall into this category. VFP members I know often cite a conversation or a message as having opened the door of their closed mind and started the questioning process that led them to new understanding. Hearing "You are a piece of shit" is never cited as the catalyst for their transformation.

I know lots of people will disagree with me and use ad hominem attack words like "keeping your hands clean" or whatever.

I've been arrested standing up for my beliefs, and I've been in trouble at work many times for speaking political truths. No, I have never punched a Nazi and it's unlikely that I ever will; I'm a writer, not a fighter. With my low pain threshold and aging body, practically anyone could beat me in a fight. But that's not the actual reason that I sincerely believe the pen is more powerful than the sword.

The Nazis didn't win over the German people by violence. They won them over with sophisticated propaganda, and by making sure they could feed their children. They scapegoated the Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities to give the humiliated and broke German workers something to feel good about.

Yes, I know that the antifa forces in Charlottesville last summer saved the clergy, according to several who were defended and lived to tell the tale.

Self-defense is another category of violence that has different moral implications than premeditated assault, and I'm glad the antifa did what they did.

Would I use a weapon in self-defense or to protect a child or other innocent target? Yes, I think I would. There are all kinds of subversive acts I'd be willing to take against fascists if I had the opportunity. There's a huge arena for action between cowering in fear/appeasement on the one hand, and threatening to punch Nazis in the balls on the other.

It's been my experience that most people in the U.S. are too scared to even speak up in the face of racism or other forms of violence, much less punch anybody. People I work with quiver in fear at the thought of sending a letter to the editor and that's the truth.

I admire a family member who plans to be in Washington DC next month to film the Unite the Right rally as a citizen journalist. I respect groups like Unicorn Riot that use the power of media and information sharing "dedicated to exposing root causes of dynamic social and environmental issues through amplifying stories and exploring sustainable alternatives in today’s globalized world."

Let's all do what we can as best we understand it, and let's keep this conversation going.

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