"Non-Violent Smuggers" Response
I agree with Arthur that it is important to define the terms "violence", "non-violence", "vandalism", "aviolence", etc.. To clarify, though I put myself in the "non-violence is best nearly always with few exceptions" category, I'm not a complete pacifist so don't pull the bullshit "Well what if your wife or child was being killed or raped"* deliberate conversation ender**; certainly there are times when violence may be necessary or superior, not only as a tactic but even morally, to the "non-violent" alternative***. But although that conversation should take place, sadly, Arthur's sophistry-laden "observations" are not the place to start. The first problem is he starts with a somewhat loaded description:
Most typically, "violence" refers to physical harm inflicted on persons or things by direct action, where the harm is caused by an individual(s) or by an individual(s) controlling an instrumentality of some kind (a knife, a gun, a bomb, a drone). But we also use "violence" in a looser sense, when we refer to emotional or psychological violence -- or to economic violence. Factors common to these various usages include harm which would not have occurred absent the preceding action (assuming other possibly impinging elements remain unchanged), and that the nature and extent of the harm can often not be predicted with any reliability. We may think that a shot to the head will kill someone, but even that much is uncertain (as recently demonstrated in the case of Gabrielle Giffords). Although the specific nature and extent of the harm cannot be predicted, we can identify one other factor common to the different usages of "violence," including when physical harm is not involved (at least, in the beginning): when we employ violence, we seek to restrict or direct the range of choices available to the person(s) against whom the violence is aimed. As the Milk Street Cafe example demonstrates, those who are affected by the violence involved may not be immediately apparent.
This is incomplete (see below), and some points may be arguable, but ok, for argument's sake let's say fair enough thus far. Well then he jumps on an alligator's back to cross a stream, extrapolating the following:
If we restrict ourselves to instances of civil disobedience which are entirely non-violent (again, in common understanding), we can observe that those who engage in such civil disobedience decline to follow those courses of action which are expected and informally condoned or, in the case of more overt conflict, those courses of action which are legally required. In other words, they decline to obey; they are being disobedient. While that much is obvious (perhaps painfully so, you might be heard to say), the reversal that is attempted is perhaps not so obvious: those who engage in civil disobedience seek to make others obey them. This is true in the manner already identified: the Occupiers (for example) are seeking to make the ruling class as well as the culture more generally take notice of their concerns. The additional goal is that those in power should do something about those concerns, even if what they should do is left unspecified (about which, more later). Those who protest seek to make those in power act in ways the powerful would not themselves choose, absent the protesters' actions.
I approach these questions from this perspective to throw into relief one particular issue: when we speak of civil disobedience, we are speaking of compulsion by those in power being answered by (attempted) compulsion by those who protest. The effort to compel others to act in a certain way (and/or to restrict their range of action) is common to both.
Then jumps on the next alligator's back, extrapolating the following:
Keeping these observations in mind, I think that, while it initially may strike us as very wrong to view the question this way given the widespread cultural conditioning to which we are all subject, it is far more accurate to view non-violence itself as another instance of compulsion. And if we are attentive to what proponents of non-violence advocate with regard to action -- and, importantly, what they hope the effects of that action will be -- the sense of error begins to dissipate. Surely, advocates of non-violence hope that change will result from what they do, and they often hope for dramatic and widespread change, even on a societal level. These advocates are not relying on persuasion alone; if they were, why the call to action?
One of the results of the commonly accepted view of non-violence as devoid of compulsion, and thus tautologically devoid of violence, is that we are led to bewildering reactions, as reflected in a number of comments I've seen about recent events in Oakland, for example. Advocates of non-violence will enthusiastically applaud the fact that the port of Oakland was forced to be closed (those who operate the port did not choose to close the port voluntarily), while they fervently condemn those protesters who smashed some windows and caused other property damage (all of which seems to be comparatively minor, to judge from multiple reports).
Why is compulsion approved in one case, but condemned in the other? I am unable to identify a principle which justifies the disparity.
And then jumps on the final alligator's back to reach the other shore:
Consider the Milk Street Cafe example with which we began. The chain of events which led to the dismissal of more than 20 employees, and which may lead to the closing of the Cafe altogether, includes the presence of Occupy Wall Street. Rather than the continuing presence of the protesters, the Cafe's owner himself might prefer, if he were free to choose, that the Occupiers broke some or even all of his windows, and perhaps went on to damage some of his other on-site property. If that happened on one occasion (and possibly even two or three times), he could replace and repair all of it, and his business might return to previous levels. That result would be a significant improvement over what is happening now.
Also consider the possible further effects for the laid-off employees. Perhaps one of them is a single mother (or father). She is unable to find another job, which is far from difficult to imagine in the present circumstances. She runs out of food in a few weeks, and she can't find sufficient food for herself and her two children from available food banks and similar resources. At some point, she considers stealing food so that her children will survive. Let's rephrase that to better capture the reality, which is much starker: she considers stealing food so that her children won't die.
But, certain proponents of non-violence will assuredly announce, that would be wrong [of her?]. It would be a crime (obviously true, given current laws), and it would involve violence. For the non-violence advocates, it would be wrong in multiple ways. Violence is always wrong, they inform us. (Yet forcing the port of Oakland to close is a triumph.)
Ergo, your non-violence just caused this poor single mother's child to die of starvation! You smug bastards.
Anyway, the logical fallacies are too numerous to count.
Arthur's formulation as far as I can ascertain (and I welcome his clarification) is as follows: First, he appears to define violence incredibly broadly, basically as any action which causes harm intentionally or not, and/or action which compels obedience or compliance. I have serious issues with this, because it equates violence as defined only by the result or rational purpose. I would submit that a substantial component of violence is that many just find it pleasurable to commit. In other words, violence is not only a means, but an end itself, maybe/often/usually(always?) even the primary end. For example, some argue that Bin Ladin and the 911 hijackers commited their acts of murder to further an Islamic Caliphate or to influence US hegemony in islamic nations, or some other political goal. Well, that's one argument, definitly the one they put forth anyway, however there is another argument, namely they just wanted to murder a lot of people. The means was the end argument. If success is a valid argument, certainly they were more successful in the second explanation than the first.
But another problem is that Arthur's configuration is so broad as to be meaningless. Is Planter's responsible for someone dying of a peanut allergy? Is that violence? How about industrial accidents? How different is an industrial accident from a hunter gatherer being killed by an errant arrow or falling out of a coconut tree? Then, is tangential harm, even if unintended, really "violence" (a centerpiece of his argument)?
Arthur doesn't even stop there, he posits the following: Civil disobedience, including non-violent civil disobedience, also compels obedience, by supposedly forcing "favorable" actions by those who would rather have us be completely compliant and obedient. Violence also compels obedience. Therefore, violence and non-violence are in effect indistinguishable in their intended outcome, so there is no principle that allows you to separate them. IOW, don't let the prepositions fool, violence and non-violence are not separable, they are merely two sides to the same coin. What maddening, double-speak rubbish.
But ultimately, my argument against violence and for non-violence (described by me here as deliberate destruction/harm to people and "things" (including property, non-human living things and the environment)), for whatever purpose, is not only a practical one, nor is it absolute. The main issue/problem is as Jean Valjean realized, violence diminishes oneself, both morally and practically, more than any other person. Plus, it has long been noted and admitted that violence is addictive. A self-reflective person might ask themself "am I advocating breaking these windows, burning down this building, etc. because it personally excites me, or because it serves a justifiable cause". Well, wake me when that happens. As for the "inconsistency" red herring, just because there is a slippery slope doesn't mean we can't put crampons on and negotiate it safely.
I don't know where Arthur is going with all this, although he says he has more to say on the subject. Hopefully he retools from this very poorly-conceived piece, because he is nearly always a lot better than this effort demonstrates (Assange aside), and his Alice Miller and tribalism related essays are required reading for all of humanity.
NOTE: I have long supported his blog and this isn't going to diminish my support in any way. It shouldn't dimish yours either. I hope this goes without saying.
* and why does it always come to those two, patriachal, right-wing trope examples? Is it difficult to grasp why?
** and yes, I have capacity for great violence as well, that makes me special how?
*** all terms we should define for the conversation.