Sunday, January 22, 2017

On responding to speech with violence, or why a coward in a mask is nothing like Captain America

When I was a kid, I got beat up more than once for supporting civil rights. I say this with a mix of pride and shame, pride for speaking up, shame for being beaten. A part of me will always wish I could've beaten the racists more badly than they beat me. That's how it works in popular culture. The righteous hero soundly thrashes the bad people. That's what Captain America does.

Richard Spencer is a Nazi who no one heard of until the media saw thar's clickbait in them hills and promoted him for all he was worth. The other day, while he was talking to an interviewer, someone in a mask ran up and hit him when he wasn't looking, then ran away. As a result, many people are comparing the puncher to Captain America:


This is the Captain America who inspired me as a boy:


This is the Captain America who knows tactics matter as much as principles because your tactics reveal your principles.

If you want to respond to speech with violence, show your face, challenge your opponent, and stay for the consequences. Otherwise you look like a coward, and people who know history will wonder if you're a police provocateur who is trying to change the subject to whether violence is a proper response to speech.

Here's what two of my heroes said about how to deal with ideological opponents:

"No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm." —Martin Luther King

"Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery." —Malcolm X

King answers hard questions about nonviolence in this short interview:


ETA: How Malcolm X dealt with Nazis when he was in the Nation of Islam: When Malcolm X Met the Nazis - VICE