Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On punching racists and genocide advocates

Richard Spencer By Vas Panagiotopoulos (https://www.flickr.com/photos/vas/30910084580/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
by Vas Panagiotopoulos
Someone punched Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed "white nationalist" during a street interview. Since then, a lively debate has blossomed on the Internet, driven, inevitably, by a series of memes and videos relating the punch to Indiana Jones's punching a Nazi in The Last Crusade.

Among the cheerfully irreverent memes, some people have asked the serious question: is it right to punch Nazis? And if we regard punching a Nazi as ethically acceptable, does it accomplish anything positive? 

To start with the moral question, which should always come first: anyone can condemn violence on moral grounds, but condemning this punch specifically and consistently requires much stronger condemnation of practices of the American government. Richard Spencer published a website that notoriously published an article advocating genocide of African peoples. A South Asian member of a Salafist organization publishing a similar article advocating genocide of "infidels" would find themselves in danger of a sucker punch in the form of a hellfire missile fired by a drone. If you deplore, and work against, the drone campaign, you may consistently deplore the punch on moral grounds.

Arno Arr Michaelis has a post on facebook in which he argues against punching Richard Spenser on rational grounds: violent people thrive on violence, and punching a "white nationalist" simply feeds the us versus them reaction racists need to promote themselves and their views. 
The subsequent debate included this comment, also from Michaelis:
Here's another way to look at it. Nicole: you said something about how you sure wouldn't hug a Nazi standing there spouting shit like that. Fair enough and totally understandable. But what if you did? What would prove him wrong? What would prove his point? The fool's entire ideology is based on the premise that white people are victims, and as he's going on about it, someone comes and blasts him in the grill. Can anyone honestly say that that hurt him? It's exactly what he's trying to provoke. Now his point is proven to all the other disgruntled white people, and they'll be falling all over themselves to join up with him, who they see on every possible media outlet now, thanks to the "anti-fascist" who served Spenser's purpose. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Spenser paid the guy to do it. That's how much it helps him.
Now, imagine if instead the Free Hugs Project guy came up in place of the puncher and gave poor oppressed Richard a great big hug as he was elaborating how savage black people are. What kind of effect would that have had? Think Spencer would have shared that video? That would have utterly crushed everything the "alt-right" is about... with a hug. 
Yes indeed folks. The hug is mightier than the fist.
A punch won't solve anything. Creative non-violence will get us much farther. Hugs, on he other hand, "kumbayah" and efforts to "kill them with kindness" won't touch the central problem: Spencer has followers because a terribly large number of people have come to believe the globalized world offers them no meaningful place. Dislocated people look for some source, any source of meaning and identity. However artificial and ultimately humiliating a claim of "whiteness" as a basis of identity may prove, too many people find it less humiliating than the offerings of the Walmart economy. That routine and impersonal humiliation, which many ordinary Americans evidently feel in their bones, drives the racist movement. Hugging Richard Spencer on the street will do no more to alleviate that pain than punching him does.

I believe the assumption of an ultimately imaginary racial identity will make it much harder, and indeed effectively impossible for working class Americans to solve their real problem: caught between automation and competition from workers in other countries, millions of American workers have seen their economic base disappear, and worse, have seen the skills and work routines which defined their sense of worth pulled clean out of the mainstream of American economic activity. Solving that problem, or at least alleviating the suffering it causes, will take more than hugs or fists on the street.

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