New Culture of Violence
Violence is an undeniable part of human history. In our infancy it was a natural facet of life as the human race struggled to survive and carve out a place in the world. Fights over resources, food, shelter, and mates were just facts of life for the founders of our civilization. Even today early childhood development is often a small, and less violent reenactment of this dynamic as children learn to socialize. They tend to fight over toys, argue about who is in charge, and so on. It is how the young of our still very animal species learns how to be a part of a group of other animals. It is something we still carry in our DNA; the instinctual part of us that takes over when we are in a situation where survival is the only priority. The switch in our brain that tells us to fight, or run, and something we often have to work to suppress because we are rational beings who can reason out the consequences of our actions.
As humanity grew up our penchant for violence grew, and became more inventive. Even today we are often better at hurting each other than helping. Our fights over resources became full-on wars of conquest, and the lives lost can’t begin to be counted. We fought over religion, territory, and even because one ruler insulted another one.
Finally humanity got a clue. The rights of the individual far outweighs anything else, and we started to recognize that. We weren’t perfect at it obviously. Not everyone agreed on what defined a person who deserved those rights. This took time as well, and the debate was often violent. Early on few people earned liberty without a fight. Wars for independence slowly replaced rulers with elected representatives, and just as quickly people found ways to peacefully transfer power to the citizens rather than the ruling class. After a time violent revolution became a tool of dictators rather than average people.
Peaceful activism rose as a staple of civilized debate, even in the most difficult times. Martin Luther King Jr. famously promoted peaceful demonstration, even in the face of violent reactions to his message <http://kazantoday.com/WeeklyArticles/dr-king-non-violence.html>. Even when his family was in danger and his own home was attacked, he championed non-violent means. Before Dr. King, Mahatma Gandhi led non-violent movements in both South Africa and India. While he espoused peaceful political protest he acknowledged that not everyone has the courage to do so. He said, “where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.” He didn’t believe people should hide behind non-violence to cover their fear of facing violent opposition without a means of defense. He certainly didn’t believe that violence should be the first, or primary response though.
For a long time in the west the path of progress was marked by a peaceful march, sometimes faced by violent resistance of people who feared, or hated change. It was easy to know who was supporting equal rights, free speech, and enlightened change. They were the people holding hands in a line while being hit with a firehose. They were individuals sitting quitely, insuring that their arrest for trespassing wasn’t easy for authorities. You could tell because for most of them they held to the principles of peaceful protest. A protected right ingrained in our culture and Constitution. The violence came from those resistant to that change. The people who wanted to maintain the world as it was, and feared what it would become.
Now the people claiming to support progress and freedom are those hurling bricks at cops, destroying their own neighborhoods, and attacking people they claim are Nazis. On the other side, we have the people we are supposed to believe are the oppressors who stand peacefully in the face of the violence and push back with ideas. Sadly that didn’t last long. Now both sides show up to a protest with weapons, armor, and masks. One claims self-defense against words, while the other is in response to actual violence. Who’s right anymore though? Can we even tell? That’s the trap of allowing your stance to become violent. Your words have no meaning. When all people can see is the brick in your hand that becomes all that matters.
Watching events over the last year or so it’s almost as if the poles have flipped and we really are living in a world where 2+2=5. The people claiming to be progressive are supporting violent reaction to ideas they don’t like. Even threats against the President, or cleverly worded ‘what if’ scenarios are becoming more common. The party whose members went from segregationists and KKK founders to free speech warriors at Berkeley seem to have regressed. Free speech is now met with fists, broken bottles, and bike locks wielded by the ideological descendants of those flower children of my parent’s generation. Is that what we’re seeing? Another shift in political spectrum?
The meme of 2017 seems to be “Punch Nazis”, as people gleefully support violent assault of people they don’t agree with. That’s all it is really. Do the targets actually have to be Nazis? Of course not. They just have to be on the other side. As long as you are wearing a Trump hat, or shirt, you are branded a Nazi and that makes you the target of these people. Just opposing their ideals brands you a Nazi, because of course they say they’re anti-fascist so they must be right. Right? I mean, if you disagree with the anti-fascists they will violently attack you, destroy your livelihood, and otherwise try to force you to see things their way. Nothing at all fascist about that.
It is entirely possible that what is happening is the same thing that has happened more than once over the course of this American experiment. Political parties change as their base changes. Young people who may cling to one side or another won’t always share the views of the older generation. Once the Republican party was known for belief in liberty and freedom, and the Democrats were famous for standing against civil rights. Later the belief was pushed that the tables flipped and the right became the racists while the left were the morally correct side. Are we seeing that change again? We are certainly seeing more of a violent reaction to political discourse from the side that more recently claimed to be about freedom.
Now reason seems to be fleeing at an accelerated rate. Protests that should be peaceful have devolved into social media stunts, brawls, and riots. The news media feeds off it like vultures and the sheep in masks waving soviet flags give them fuel for their clickbait. The response from the right seems to be meet them in equal measure because “they did it first.”, and not always in self defense. I’m all for protecting yourself and those around you, but when you show up to a rally dressed and armed for a fight, that’s what you’ll find. Are they really wrong though? When Antifa thugs attack people in groups and bring weapons to protests it’s hard not to want a weapon of your own. Maybe there’s no right answer. Perhaps they have to roll around in the mud like pigs fighting over scraps until someone comes along and talks some sense into them.
Thankfully I believe it will end eventually. I think people will come to their senses. I just don’t know what the road will look like getting there. Most people scoff at the idea of a literal race or class war, but our media and many idealogues are feeding just such a fire. Everything is about ‘us vs. them’. If you aren’t part of the tribe you are the enemy, and now it seems people are starting to believe the only way to talk to your enemy is with your fists.
That’s really the difference between a war and a disagreement. We can argue with words all day long, disagree, scream and shout. That is a disagreement, and as ugly as it can be it is perfectly within the sphere of rational debate. The minute you raise your fists to someone who isn’t attacking you first you are wrong, no matter your side. You have become the aggressor for no other reason than you don’t like someone elses words. How vastly ironic that it’s the side that will criticize the US for going to war over oil, but turn around and punch someone in the face over words. It has become culturally accepted to be a hypocrite, on both sides. “They did it first” seems to be the only justification anyone needs to throw reason out the window. Right and wrong have no meaning for a lot of people now because they willfully cast aside everything this experiment is working toward so they can be ‘right’.
Take a look in the mirror for awhile reader. Are you looking inward enough? Do you see yourself and what you’re doing to the world around you? If believe we can fix a lot of things if we just do better in our own little part of this life. We can also screw up a lot if we let our part of it fall apart. If you decide to treat other people poorly because they did it first, when does it stop? Do you really think it will end when someone ‘wins’? Are we dealing with people, on either side, that are rational enough to think they might be wrong? Will you ever really win if you cast aside the only thing they can’t take away from you? Take a hard look. If your principles are so cheap they can be cast aside whenever it’s convenient, what are they really worth when this is all over?