Thoughts about Violence & Threats of Violence Occurring Today

October 6, 2020

 

I wrote the following in response to a 2018 attack by a self-described Antifa group on the Fox News commentator, Tucker Carlson, described online [1]; the article's headline reads "Antifa group chants outside, vandalizes Fox commentator Tucker Carlson's home." These thoughts apply also to the violence occurring today in the name of fighting racism and oppression generally, especially as the pro-Trump forces are increasingly trying to use fear of such violence to turn many Americans against us.

 

We the have-nots have real enemies, and Tucker Carlson is one of them. And we have a moral right to remove our enemies from power so that they will not be able to do ANYTHING to abet the oppression of people. ​The question is, What is the principle for us to follow in fighting back against our enemies that is both morally and practically sound? ​To start with, if we do anything that is not morally justified, it will not be practically useful (certainly not in the long run) because our strength comes from having the support of the vast majority of people, and the vast majority of people won't support immoral acts. The basic moral principle regarding violence or its threat is that it is only morally justified in self-defense, including collective self-defense, in other words defending oneself or other people against those using violence or its credible threat to force people to submit to unjust oppression or domination. I refer to this as the principle of non-cruelty, which I discuss online [2].

 

Sometimes, however, what is morally justifiable may not be practically useful. To be practically useful, violence (or its threat) must elicit the support (or at least friendly neutrality) of the majority of the have-nots. There is a useful guide for knowing how to gain this support: it's called "TIT FOR TAT." ​

 

TIT FOR TAT

 

The "TIT FOR TAT" guide says this: Respond to an enemy individual or group of individuals the same way this individual or group of individuals is acting towards you, neither more nor less violently. Thus: If they are using only words (speech--as is the case with Tucker Carlson) then use only words in defense. ​If they are using only the threat of violence, then use only the threat of violence in defense. ​If they are using violence, then use violence (of the same degree of lethality) in defense. ​

 

Those who broke a front door and used the threat of violence against Tucker Carlson and his wife violated the TIT FOR TAT guide, and this explains the widespread revulsion among the have-nots for what they did, even among people who hate what Tucker Carlson is doing. It also explains why I think that the people who threatened Tucker Carlson were wrong. ​

 

Some people say, "TIT FOR TAT is not a good idea because it leaves a person 'one step behind,' so, for example, in a murder the victim is dead before being able to use any self-defense." This misses the point that TIT FOR TAT is a guide for how a social movement--our egalitarian revolutionary movement in particular--should act; it is about COLLECTIVE self-defense. It means that when the enemy is using lethal violence (i.e., killing people, murdering them) it is appropriate to use lethal violence in self-defense, and otherwise not. Obviously when lethal violence is imminent (as when somebody is about to be murdered) lethal violence in self-defense is appropriate. TIT FOR TAT does not say that one should allow oneself to be murdered before using whatever violence is necessary to defend oneself.

 

The Problem With Political Assassinations

 

Some people object to the TIT FOR TAT guide by arguing that politicians kill people with a pen (by signing oppressive legislation or government orders) without ever using an actual lethal weapon and therefore it is sometimes wise to assassinate them with a lethal weapon, in contrast to the TIT FOR TAT guide. The historical evidence, however, is that when an individual or group of individuals assassinates a politician or any government or corporate leader in the name of fighting against oppression, it almost always ends up strengthening the ruling class because it enables it to turn the general public against the assassin(s). The REASON the ruling class can do this is because the assassin(s) violated the TIT FOR TAT guide.

 

What about the fact that that, as Woodie Guthrie put it in his song Pretty Boy Floyd the Outlaw, "Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen"? ​People who use a pen to oppress people are using a pen, not a knife or a gun. Respond to such people with a pen, not a knife or a gun, or else risk losing the support of most of the have-nots. Note, however, that the WAY a pen kills people is only indirectly, by authorizing other people (such as cops or military personnel) to use actual violence against people to oppress them (e.g., by forcibly evicting them from their home because they don't have the money to pay the rent, arresting them when they take food they need without paying for it because they don't have the money, forcing them to let scabs cross their picket line, etc.), and when people such as cops use actual violence this way (with billy clubs or pistols or even larger weapons when necessary) to oppress, then it is reasonable (it is indeed TIT FOR TAT) for people to use equivalent violence in self-defense against those people (cops or military personnel.)

 

Of course it takes a lot of organization to use violence in self-defense this way, which is one of the things an egalitarian revolutionary movement is needed for. When the public is informed about WHY oppressed people use violence in this manner (TIT FOR TAT) it maximizes the support they get from the general public when they use violence in self-defense. In contrast, when assassins assassinate an oppressive politician they minimize the public support they get, even though the politician may be extremely oppressive.

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1. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/all/antifa-group-chants-outside-vandalizes-fox-commentator-tucker-carlson-s-n934131

2. https://www.pdrboston.org/non-violence-or-non-cruelty-1

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