Dreams, Violence

Today is a good day to read this speech. Good stuff. I have very mixed feelings about one topic, however:

In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

On the one hand, it seems noble to fight violence without violence. There is less risk of getting carried away and overreacting, which increases violence and rights violations.

On the other hand, when violence is being used against you, to refuse to use violence as a tool is to put yourself in a significantly weaker position. I think it is naive to let the misuses of violence blind us to our uses.

From my libertarian perspective: is it right to shoot the city fire marshal who says you need a permit for your new outdoor lights? I certainly don't think so, and I'd consider anyone who did that a homicidal maniac. But what about the DEA agent who shoots and kills your son while looking for his pot stash? In my worldview, that man is a murderer, pure and simple. And it's a murder that will clearly not receive justice through normal channels, thus a classic case for vigilantism. Besides being justice for the death, it will improve the incentives for future situations. Surely DEA agents, like any other criminals, respond to incentives.

The authority of the state is backed by violence. To use that tool too easily is to become the enemy. But to relinquish it completely is unconditional surrender. We must walk the line with care.

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On the other hand, when

On the other hand, when violence is being used against you, to refuse to use violence as a tool is to put yourself in a significantly weaker position.

I just have one comment, really: Gandhi won.

And lots of dead bodies all

And lots of dead bodies all around the world lost. But in the history books, they are listed as millions of anonymous people, not one striking individual, so we tend to notice them less.

King's nonviolence was

King's nonviolence was largely inspired by Gandhi's, even to the use of the term "soul force", which was derived from Gandhi's satyagraha ("truth force"). In my humble opinion, Gandhi and King were black-belt badasses, and they might have come up with a more clever and effective response to your DEA agent than mere vigilante revenge. I'm pretty sure you can too.

http://www.markshep.com/nonviolence/Myths.html :

I suspect, though, that most of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Gandhi have to do with nonviolence. For instance, it’s surprising how many people still have the idea that nonviolent action is passive.

It’s important for us to be clear about this: There is nothing passive about Gandhian nonviolent action.

I’m afraid Gandhi himself helped create this confusion by referring to his method at first as “passive resistance,” because it was in some ways like techniques bearing that label. But he soon changed his mind and rejected the term.

Gandhi’s nonviolent action was not an evasive strategy nor a defensive one. Gandhi was always on the offensive. He believed in confronting his opponents aggressively, in such a way that they could not avoid dealing with him.

But wasn’t Gandhi’s nonviolent action designed to avoid violence? Yes and no. Gandhi steadfastly avoided violence toward his opponents. He did not avoid violence toward himself or his followers.

Gandhi said that the nonviolent activist, like any soldier, had to be ready to die for the cause. And in fact, during India’s struggle for independence, hundreds of Indians were killed by the British.

The difference was that the nonviolent activist, while willing to die, was never willing to kill.

Gandhi pointed out three possible responses to oppression and injustice. One he described as the coward’s way: to accept the wrong or run away from it. The second option was to stand and fight by force of arms. Gandhi said this was better than acceptance or running away.

But the third way, he said, was best of all and required the most courage: to stand and fight solely by nonviolent means.

Non-violence and the State

The problem with violence is that it feeds the State's narrative of power. A good example of the futility of violence in response to injustice is the situation in Gaza, where the Israeli government uses the violent response of the Palestinians to oppression and violence to justify its brutal activities. Take away the violence on the Palestinian side, and you take away the Israeli justification and leave their actions naked to the world. This is the strength of non-violence. But, as Gandhi and others saw, this means being willing to die rather than commit violence and thus requires more courage, and better planning, than a violent response.

The problem with

The problem with non-violence is that it feeds the State's monopoly on violence.

I agree as far as morality goes

But I don't think King was talking morality; rather he was talking strategy. Non-violent resistence is all about shame. The goal is to shame your tormenter into laying down arms. Non-violent protests highlight your morality. After all, you're just trying to make salt from the ocean. Or just trying to have a meal with everyone else. They highlight your tormenter's immorality: the fact that he doesn't allow you to make salt or sit with everyone else. They contrast the stark difference between you and him: you have no slight against him and will not raise a fist. He pummels you with a riot hose, or in the worst case, shoots you. All this happens as the rest of the world looks on. Onlookers are key. Non-violent protest yields massive sympathy.

Of course, the success of the strategy depends on how moral your tormenter is. Yes, there are degrees of morality even between repulsive regimes. In the Anglosphere, non-violent protest has been successful, as the British gave up India and the US gave civil rights. Yet, I doubt such tactics would've worked in say, Weimer Germany or under the Khmer Rouge.

In the relatively open societies of the Anglosphere, I do think non-violent protests are the best initial strategy for civil disobedience.

One problem is that

One problem is that "non-violent" doesn't always mean non-coercive. Typical example would be workers sitting in their factory to protest. The employer sending in the cops to remove them by force is made to be shown as the evil immoral violent person while the workers are "peacefully" protesting. So yes, the strategy is very efficient, but unfortunately it works both ways.

I agree. After all, I'm

I agree. After all, I'm proposing building floating cities, not armed rebellion. I just think that most people are too quick to cede a monopoly on retributive violence to the state.

I'm shocked to see you acting so unintelligent

Patri, I'm amazed at the ridiculously sophomoric hypothetical that you suggest as a case study in which you propose that violence (and, specifically, murderous wrath) is just. I also think that it does nothing to encourage real contemplation of serious, organized protests that are ordered around non-violent strategies.

Sarah Vowel once did a nice piece for a radio show, in which she analyzes and expressed her personal disgust for "rich white people comparing themselves to Rosa Parks." I think it's a worthy context to consider here: I for one don't buy your widespread, non-specific hatred of government as being in any way comparable to the civil rights movement that King stood at the center of, and I certainly don't give you any credit (as one rich white guy to another) for attempting to draw the comparison.

At the risk of dignifying the hypothetical, though, I'll address it briefly: Every action you take may be rational, or emotional, or somewhere in between. Assuming that the vengeful killing you propose is a rational, measured act and not merely a wrathful emotional response, then it's at odds with the social contract that members of Western societies general agree to (that is, the only time it's okay to willfully kill someone is in self defense). And, of course, if it's at odds with your own philosophical and moral stance, then it's hard to argue that it's rational...

If, on the other hand, it's in line with one's philosophical and moral position, then where does the line get drawn? Why aren't all vigilante killings justified? (By extension, this is, I think, how the aforementioned social contract comes into being: if all vigilante killings are just, then I'm personally much less safe, because of the likelihood of vigilantes mistaking me for a murderer).

Which comes around to the truth about non-violence: sometimes it means allowing yourself to appear as a victim, in order to make a point. As others have hinted, the strategy works only if the audience is able to appreciate that image, which means that your victimization must not appear weak, but strong and courageous. It's possible for the audience to be very narrow (as small as your own offender), but like any performance, the broader the audience, the better. As technology increases the potential audience pool for small-scale or unplanned acts of non-violent protest, I wonder if we'll see more use of the strategy.

(that is, the only time it's

(that is, the only time it's okay to willfully kill someone is in self defense)

...and I think many (though not all) people would agree that the self defense exemption applies to defending your own son.

His point is that, while non-violent strategies can get a lot of things done (at least in the Anglosphere), there is no theorem that says that every legitimate cause is best advanced through non-violence. If you're searching for an optimal strategy to get something done, you can't always restrict your search to the space of non-violent strategies; occasionally something really is best handled through force, and I think Patri's hypothetical is one clear example (even though I disagree with many of his views on drugs). This is not an "unintelligent" point. (There are contexts in which it is unwise to emphasize this point, but I doubt this blog is one of them.)

Obviously there are some

Obviously there are some significant difference in our moral codes. I don't believe in the social contract in the slightest. I never signed it. I wish it would go away. If someone gave it to me to sign, I'd burn it. Nor do I buy the idea that because I live here and haven't moved, I am somehow bound by some contract I never signed (see Lysander Spooner on that subject).

And speaking of being sophomoric, how can you say "the only time it's okay to willfully kill someone is in self defense", and miss that aspect of my hypothetical? I constructed a hypothetical in which someone has wrongfully killed someone else, and the victim has no chance at justice. Are you saying that in your moral code, such victims must go unavenged? Seems like a pretty bankrupt moral code to me.

If, on the other hand, it's in line with one's philosophical and moral
position, then where does the line get drawn? Why aren't all vigilante
killings justified?

I think that it's better to pursue justice within the courts when possible, since a stable justice system has all kinds of positive effects. So I would start by restricted vigilantism to situations where the courts will clearly not handle the case, or have clearly gotten it wrong. But in those situations, I think vigilantism is justified.

Keep in mind that, as someone who views the government as an organized crime syndicate that has taken over the country, the DEA is an arm of that gang which specializes in terrorizing innocent farmers and plant distributors, often with violence and incarceration. When they murder people as part of their campaign of terror, it is no different (to me) than if the Mafia murders someone. Actually, there is a big difference - the Mafia murderer may be convicted through the courts.

Let me ask you: Suppose a close family member (your wife, son, or dad) was murdered by someone in the Mafia because he opened a restaurant competing with one of theirs. The Mafia has suborned the police and courts, and you are positive you will not get justice that way. Suppose you know a hit man who you believe can kill the murderer, and you can afford to hire him. Would you really consider it wrong to do so? If so, why? If not, how do the situations differ?

Incentive or deterrent?

...it will improve the incentives for future situations. Surely DEA agents, like any other criminals, respond to incentives.

I do not think "incentive" is the correct word here. I think the correct word is "deterrent". I think of "incentive" as describing positive outcomes, and "deterrent" as describing negative ones. While these may be mathematically equivalent, I think the psychological difference is important in this context.

Given that studies of the effect of the death penalty have shown that it has little-to-no deterrent value, what makes you think that a revenge-killing will do better?

There's also the separate issue of whether revenge-killing qualifies as "justice". There's certainly differences of opinion on this topic. Myself, I am drifting towards the position that true justice is based on restitution, not punishment.

Econospeak

I do not think "incentive" is the correct word here. I think the correct word is "deterrent"

It's a formula: "people respond to incentives" is a nutshell formula that encapsulates a fundamental idea. You can of course say "people respond to incentives and deterrents", but you've increased the length of the formula without adding to the insight (because "incentives" of course also means "disincentives" in the context of the formula), and these nutshell formulas should probably be as short as possible.

Given that studies of the effect of the death penalty have shown that
it has little-to-no deterrent value, what makes you think that a
revenge-killing will do better?

But the studies only purport that the death penalty has no greater deterrent value than alternative punishments. Relative to no punishment at all, it presumably has deterrent value. And it's financially much more feasible for one person to kill another than it is for one person to house and feed another for the rest of his life.

Myself, I am drifting towards the position that true justice is based on restitution, not punishment.

Ancient systems of justice do center around restitution (e.g. weregild as restitution for homicide). However, this system is backed up by more direct force. If the perpetrator refuses to pay the weregild, then what? Fine him again? And if he refuses again, then what? Fine him a third time? If you don't pay the weregild, then as I recall you become an outlaw - you are placed outside of the protection of the law - and you can be killed with impunity.

A deterrent is a negative

A deterrent is a negative incentive. When people are doing too much of something bad, we want to give them negative incentives.

The studies on the death penalty have been mixed. The problem is that it is applied so rarely that the data sets are very small. So I think there could be significant deterrent effect that is missed. But it's true that the incentive portion of the argument depends on the threat of death motivating someone's actions, which could be false.

Restitution is rather problematic when applied to a dead person. I guess you can make a big payment to his family. That might be preferable to killing the murderer, since it is a transfer and thus costs society less. But it also seems much harder for a vigilantee to take millions from a DEA agent than to shoot him.