So Richard Spencer, a white nationalist, was giving someone an interview yesterday when someone came up and sucker-punched him. Here is the video:
— Gender-Professecs (@MrTrunney) January 20, 2017
I was in an online discussion yesterday with people who were debating whether this is awesome or bad. The general consensus seemed to be that it was awesome. I said it was bad.
Ken White has written a post about it which you should read in its entirety. He makes several sensible points. Ten in all. Let me quote the first five as a springboard for discussion.
1. Nazis are scum.
2. Principles are in a constant struggle with viscera. I want punching Nazis to be acceptable, and find the spectacle of Nazis getting punched to be viscerally satisfying. Jesus Christ and John Donne aside, Nazi suffering does not move me.
3. We have social and legal norms, including “don’t punch people because their speech is evil, and don’t punish them legally.” Applying those norms is not a judgment that the speech in question is valuable, or decent, or morally acceptable. We apply the norms out of a recognition of human frailty — because the humanity that will be deciding whom to punch and whom to prosecute is the same humanity that produced the Nazis in the first place, and has a well-established record of making really terrible decisions. You — the bien-pensant reader, confident that sensible punchers and prosecutors can sort out Nazis from the not-Nazis — will likely not be doing the punching or prosecuting. The punching and prosecuting will be done by a rogue’s gallery of vicious idiots, including people who think that Black Lives Matter should be indicted under RICO and that it’s funny to send women death threats if they write a column you don’t like.
4. In embracing a norm that sucker-punching Nazis is acceptable, remember that you live in a nation of imbeciles that loves calling people Nazis. Also bear in mind that certain aspects of our culture — modern academic culture, for instance — encourages people to think that you’re a Nazi if you eat veal or disagree with them about the minimum wage.
5. By the way, right now there are tons of people right now who would welcome an emerging social norm that it’s acceptable to punch, say, Black Lives Matter protesters. I know Nazis aren’t remotely comparable. You do too. They disagree. And you’ve handed them the rhetorical tools to defend themselves, and handed the broader populace an excuse to look away. Well done.
Now. I recognize that the comment thread is likely to devolve into a discussion about whether Richard Spencer is a Nazi. Ken White sets forth his points with the assumption that Spencer is one. I don’t really disagree — but if it makes you happier, everywhere he says “Nazi” you can substitute “white nationalist and racial separatist who claims he is not a Nazi but favorably quotes Nazi propaganda and wants to have an all-white state in North America.”
I don’t believe in sucker-punching those guys. What about you?