On street violence

A lot of people, including me, are worried about the punching of Fascists, real or imagined, because it sets a bad precedent. But I'm also worried about the arguments being offered for this point of view.

Here's how it goes. They say that "we" have a fragile norm against punching people for political reasons, that engaging in street violence threatens to shatter this norm, and that this could get very bad.

Here's what they (and I used to) leave out: 

Under current norms, some groups of people already get to attack others with near impunity, and other groups expect to be regularly hassled, and to have to go out of their way to perform submission and harmlessness to avoid getting shot by the first group. This isn't a symmetric situation, and modeling it as such amounts to unprincipled apologetics for state violence.

Instead, model the situation as one of group conflict, in which there are currently power imbalances reflected in asymmetric norms about who can do violence to whom.

I still expect that a lot of street brawling with politically objectionable people will turn out to be ill-advised, but that's not an excuse for pretending away the preexisting violence in the system.

Related: Hierarchy and WingsNightmare of the Perfectly Principled, Should Effective Altruism be at war with North Korea?

7 thoughts on “On street violence

  1. FriendlyNI

    I’m confused about this post. It seems to be implicitly conflating two separate phenomena, the “Black Lives Matter” type of things where cops are overly violent with black people or people underprivileged due to race, and the antifa Berkeley style protests of the far left causing damage. But the antifa protestors are not reacting to underprivileged as far as I know, as mostly white, young, educated liberals attacking the odd conservative speaker or KKK member. Or perhaps you have another similar system in mind, like the recent violent riots in Israel due to an Ethiopian Jew being shot.

    Can you clarify more what you’re thinking of? Not all, or perhaps not even most, politically motivated street violence fits into this model, unless I’m missing something.

  2. Anon

    A good question is, how to deal with actual fascists?

    I'm pretty sure punching them doesn't do much of instrumental value, although it might feel gratifying. Generally speaking, how to deal with violent people? There's this old saying, "It takes two to tango", but that's not true. A state of violence can be forced by a unilateral aggressor.

    What should I do with people who want to deny my a right to vote, a right not to be tortured or murdered, a right to free speech, and who openly tell me that they intend to implement all this as soon as they have the power to do so?

    Maybe the answer is not to punch fascists, but to actually eliminate them.

  3. botposterabove

    Where are you located where people are threatening to harm you or suppress your rights to vote?
    Do they wait for you to leave your house and yell wait for election day or something to that effect?

    You're suggesting killing human(s) without much of a story to back it up.

  4. Some guy

    I think it could be really high impact to start posting this link everywhere


    In any case, "some groups of people already get to attack others with near impunity" could also apply to antifa, or gangsters, or whatever. 99.9% of cops could be good, but we could here about the 0.01% of the time when cops are bad and don't get caught and that could give a very unrepresentative picture.

    1. Anonmyous

      Interesting article, but it seems like a massive double standard to let the extremist right win all populist battles, including violent methods, and not grant the same to the left.

      If that's how it's going to be, I'd rather at least harm every individual who is responsible for the double standard, even if that means losing the propaganda war.

      Let's also not forget that the actual Nazis were defeated in actual warfare. The propaganda war was maybe never winnable, due to the inherent double standards mentioned. But the actual war was winnable; Nazis are actually physically killable.

      1. Some guy

        I'm not suggesting that we "let the extremist right win all populist battles". I'm suggesting we defeat them at the ballot box and through other legal means (e.g. arresting right-wing terrorists, as our justice system already does), because violence is a bad way to achieve our goals. Even if you think it's morally justified, it is pragmatically and strategically speaking a bad move.





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