There’s an idea going round now, inside all the rest of it, that anything short of violent resistance is, at best, appeasement, and at worst, tacit collaboration. It’s the language of extremes that admits of only two distinctions (formally, a false dilemma): those who are with us — where you’re only truly with us if you’re with us in full — and those who enable the enemy, actively or passively through “inaction.”
This view orients the world and everyone in it by their perceived proximity to the other side. We are of course furthest away — meaning there is no one further, no one more righteous. Everyone else is “in the middle.” So we yell at them, because if everyone “in the middle” was doing as much as us, the enemy would already be defeated.
I get it. So many of us feel legitimately powerless right now. That powerlessness turns to frustration, and frustration will always find an outlet. Sort of like blaming all Muslims for terrorism. Or Mexicans for low wages. It reduces a complex world to a simple one. It provides a clear prescription for action. And it reassures us we’re the good guys.
As ideologies go, it hits the fuckin’ jackpot.
And to the degree it’s cathartic for you to fantasize about assaulting strangers on the street, fine. I’m a novelist. That kind of complete fiction is my stock in trade: that the struggle is worthy, that you can always tell the good guys from the bad, that the wicked will get their comeuppance.
But this isn’t fiction. Captain America isn’t going to drop from an airplane and punch Adolf Hitler on the jaw. In fact, punching anyone on the jaw isn’t going to change a goddamned thing. If YOU got punched on the jaw by your opponent, what would you do?
Seriously. What would you do? Give up? Call your mom? Curl into a ball on the floor and cry yourself to sleep?
Or would you use it to spur all your friends to fight that much harder?
To overcome injustice, we’ll have to work together, and working together requires, first, understanding, and second, coordination. That’s not going to happen while you’re barking above everyone with bits of spittle flying from your teeth.
The right thing is often the most difficult. Historically, violent resistance only invites reprisal. If whom your resisting is in power, it invites repression — and simultaneously justifies it.
History suggests that what actually works is quite a bit harder, that doing the right thing is different than doing what feels good.