So, two New York Times Op-Eds, Paul Krugman and Judith Warner discuss the rise of rightwing extremism. They each cite the murder of the abortion doctor, and the murder of the guard at the Washington D.C. Holocaust Museum. Both have many nasty comments posted by readers suggesting that the articles themselves evince signs of extremism and are hypocritical. Based on the Glen Beck argument that good ol' Americans are getting branded as extremists and having their rights infringed upon. And this relates to yesterday's post: Being an asshole is not, nor should it be, a freedom guaranteed by law.
Those who argue for the freedom to bear arms cannot be separated rationally from those who want guns for no other reason than to hurt people. Regardless of whether or not they espouse the right to hunt, and seek protections for rifles, whether they want to protect their family, and seek protections for handguns, or whether as my libertarian college buddy thinks, think the people need their weapons to rise against facism--there is in all of these justifications an essential desire to commit injury or outright murder.
I can understand that, because after living in Harlem for several years, and had been the victim of violence and the threat of imminent violence, I too had briefly considered the purchase of a handgun. For a liberal, this was a major heresy on my part. And I am intensely grateful to my one-and-only for having the moral strength of character to call me on my moral lapse.
Fiction of all kinds uses violence as a dramatic tool. I am a fan of fantasy fiction, and fantasy without swords, is a complete waste of time. Likewise, horror or war movies without gore. But there is a separation between those who imagine and enjoy imagined acts of violence, and those who argue for it, or commit it. As a pacificist, I am totally opposed to the idea of committing violence on another human being. Even for the worst human beings, incarceration, I believe, is the only morally sound practice. And for those who argue the rationale of self-defense, I say this: Defending yourself is hardwired, and so excusable, in certain cases, by law. I grant that. However, parading that idea as a justification for gun control , or as a justification for keeping the power to take life in a tightly compacted metal object that could fit in a pocket or handbag is absolutely inexcusable. And if you killed a man in defense of yourself or your family. Even though you will have done what you had to do, you have still committed an immoral act, and you should beg forgiveness for it. Yes, even in cases of self-defense. And as Socrates explained in the Gorgias:
Polus: A man who is put to death wrongfully, is pitiable and miserable, I suppose.
Socrates: Less so than the man who kills him, Polus, or the man who is put to death because he deserves it.
Polus: How so, Socrates?
Socrates: Because the greatest of all misfortunes is to do wrong.
Polus: But, surely it is worse to suffer wrong?
Socrates: Certainly not.
So, while I can enjoy righteous vengeance as the hero brings his sword down upon the neck of the villain who slew his whole family, I do not believe that capital punishment is a morally acceptable equivalent. And that is not a contradiction, because what I enjoy in fantasy is a reward whose consequences are only reflected upon myself. And in point of fact--the best fantasy novels being written right now are often morally ambiguous, and make a point of showing that Evil isn't Evil, nor Good simply Good. Take Steven Erikson from Reaper's Gale:
“So the hero wins free. Then what?”
“The hero does nothing of the sort. Instead, the hero catches a chill down in those dank tunnels. Makes it out alive, however, and retreats to a nearby city, where the plague he carries spreads and kills everyone. And for thousand of years thereafter, that hero’s name is a curse to both people living above ground and those below.”
Those who argue, like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and now my libertarian friend, that violence is justifiable are shocking to me. Do I think that my friend would "take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?" I don't know. I think there is a disconnect there. I think that on some level, when you make that argument, you have forsaken the humanity of those whom you wish to conquer. They are no longer empathetic people, and become simple obstacles. And at that point, the dividing line between thought and action becomes one of fear of retribution, not moral repulsion at the idea of the violent act. Not acting for fear of retribution is not moral, in fact, in some circumstances it would be considered immoral. Take Electra, railing against her sister for not attacking the status quo in Sophocles "The Electra."
I envy you for your prudence; for your cowardice, I hate you!
She hates her sister for not acting against the injustice done to them. That is a central argument of the revolutionary isn't it? None action is complicit? If you're not with me, you're against me? Sure, and I get that argument for many reasons. But again, these simplified versions of events, indicate more about the mind of the the thinker than about the situation itself. Amongst almost all of the libertarians I've met, and those that I've read, and I include my own flesh and blood in this assessment, is a substancial vein of paranoia. There is a certain willingness to believe that the government is going to control you. When in fact, the government's biggest problem is that it doesn't really give a shit about you in the first place. Now the CIA does monitor extremists groups--and that I believe is a good thing. But the reports during the Bush years of infiltrations of peaceful groups of anti-war activists was just ridiculous. There was no threat of violence there, there was no categorical infringements of rights going on. It was a reactionary us against them, as Rick Perlstein would call it, Orthogonian movement.
All of this comes back to my central point. I think that there are people who want to commit violence against other people. I think that any rationalization for an act of violence, is an obfuscation of that desire. So logically, anyone who posits, suggests, hopes, jokes, writes, or encourages this type of extremism should be regarded warily, as marginally dangerous people. And above all, this behavior should be condemned and discouraged by every moral authority.