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Mar 02 2012

A Kick in the Balls

This post will be written in short sentences. I know it isn’t my usual style. Bear with me, please. I made a promise.

Back on the aspirin-between-the-knees post, SilentBob asked how I could be such a hypocrite. In the memes I collected was a SomeeCard threatening to knee Foster Friess in the balls. He wanted to know why that would be acceptable when threatening to kick a blogger in the cunt was not.

Balls

I asked Bob to spend some time thinking about what Friess was doing. His response was that I was just making digs at Friess. I can’t tell you whether any thought was actually involved on Bob’s part. He clearly didn’t make the connections, so I promised to explain.

Here’s the thing about violence, Bob: It’s a tool. If you think about it as a big bad taboo thing, you’re destined to go wrong. If you think violence just means words you shouldn’t use, you’re going to mess up. No way to avoid it.

It’s a dangerous tool, yes. That means we usually limit its use to the state and limit the state in its use. We make exceptions to that, however. One of those exceptions is for self-defense.

If Friess directly tried to attack my genitals, no one would cry if I kneed his balls. (Yes, someone would, possibly Bob. This is not a symptom of a healthy culture. That’s another discussion.) The attack on my genitals in this case is very slightly more abstract. So is the card. They remain proportional.

Even making no exception for self-defense, there are reasons to use the rhetoric of violence here. The state only maintains its monopoly on violence by embodying the interests of its citizens. A government that stops doing that stops being a state. At what point this happens is up for debate. What is not debated is that at some point, revolution becomes justified. Violence becomes a tool available to private citizens again.

This is where Bob’s, “Oh, you just have to keep talking about what a bad person Friess is” falls apart completely. Friess’s words didn’t end up on TV news randomly. His words are news because of his influence on government. Friess runs Rick Santorum’s SuperPAC. Thanks to regressive taxation policies and the ridiculous Citizens United ruling, Friess has a highly disproporionate voice in our public affairs. He is an unelected part of our government.

What is he doing as part of this government? He is supporting Santorum, who is trying to strip reproductive rights from half the population. He is also supporting Congressional efforts to dismantle our civilization. That was the point of his news appearance and his statement.

That is not hyperbole. The simple fact is that societies in which women control their own fertility do better in every measure–that can be applied in this lifetime. Any government that undermines that control is acting against the best interests of its people. Any government that does that loses its monopoly on violence.

It is worth reminding the complacent powers that be of this fact from time to time. That is where the rhetoric of violence is used to proper effect. Nor should anyone expect to use it without cost. If I talk revolution, I expect the government will pay attention to me. I expect it will do what it can to restrain me. That is my cost.

So, Bob wants to know, how is this different from a “joke” threat to kick a blogger in the cunt because you don’t like what she told you to do? Three ways.

  1. The hypothetical blogger is (as Bob stipulated) making no threat to this person’s control of their genitalia.
  2. The hyptothetical blogger is (as Bob stipulated) in no position to govern this person’s genitalia.
  3. Historically, people who have made such “joke” threats have insisted that these threats not be taken seriously. They’ve refused to take responsibility for their own behaviors.

So there you have it. Open threat of revolt against an invalid government versus a shrinking, cowardly “I don’t like what you said, so nyah.”

Understand the difference yet, Bob?

17 comments

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  1. 1
    WilloNyx

    Fantastic post. I have a thousand metaphorical cogs turning right now concerning threat and the implication of desired violence. I plan to post something soon as I sort it all out in my head. I feel like your post here has helped me catalogue my thoughts to some degree. Thanks.

  2. 2
    jamessweet

    A good reply. I had been thinking about it primarily in regards to the historical power imbalance between men and women (i.e. all other things being equal, a man doing/saying something misogynist is far worse than a woman doing/saying something unfairly misandrist). I had not also thought about the power imbalance between someone who can get a spot on a national news network vs. somebody posting an e-card to a moderately popular blog — very good point.

    Heh, and referencing a side thread on the other post, I think Foster Friess is in no jeopardy of “becoming the fucking poster child for getting kneed in the balls”. “Hypothetical bloggers” are easily marginalized, especially when they are part of a traditionally marginalized group; whereas absurdly rich politically-motivated businessmen — not so much.

  3. 3
    bspiken

    This post is full of win. Amazing genital self defensively kicking win.

    I do have a slightly tangential question though. Should violence be monopolized by the state? And it is only by abusing it that the citizenry is morally entitled to wrest said monopoly away from the state via a revolution?

    This are two questions that I’ve been wondering of late, for one they seem quite reactionary and optimist (on that the citizenry CAN wrest the power away from the oppressive state), on the other it is the very thing that the second amendment is supposed to be for, the state shouldn’t have the monopoly on violence, because this creates an environment ripe for abusive, authoritarian types to take the helm, or at the very least attempt to influence it.

    I’ts a very difficult problem, both morally and pragmatically. Thoughts?

  4. 4
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Kevin Smith called, Bob. He wants you to change your handle.

  5. 5
    Stephanie Zvan

    bspiken, one thing to remember about about the Second Amendment is that the American Revolutionary War was badly misnamed in some ways. There is a big difference between a struggle for control of a country with both groups being present in that country and a struggle for the independence of the government of a colonial property historically controlled from a distance. Most revolutions aren’t wars in that sense. That makes a big difference when you consider control of infrastructure. I wrote some about the Second Amendment and revolution here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/almostdiamonds/2009/04/06/tin-revolutionaries/

    The way Citizens United has played out has changed my math on the political process somewhat. However, the successes of Arab Spring still suggest that heavy firepower is not needed for revolution. It isn’t the willingness to kill that gets you what you’re looking for. It’s the willingness to keep on showing up even when you may die.

  6. 6
    bspiken

    @Stephanie Zvan, Yes, I agree that the American Revolution is somewhat of an exception, and I also concur with the assertion that the second amendment is obsolete (at the bare minimum because shotguns don’t beat fighter jets).

    I also agree that a revolution does not necessarily require military action (Egypt, India), however here I do have reservations, there are such (Iraq, Libya, North Korea) where there is no chance of a nonmilitary victory.

    After that throat clearing, my point is more on the policing of the state, as well as the prison administration, riot control, crime investigation and foreign military engagements.

    This are areas where both the state has monopoly on violence and has often been found to abuse them, leaving the common citizen unable to do anything but accept them. This is specially important in a civil society, where, because the abuses are less in number and also limited in their severity, a peaceful resistance to state’s excesses is often seen as “whining too much” or “criminals with nothing better to do”.

    Another throat clearing, I do believe that living in the west at this particular time in history is more peaceful and well better in almost every sense to any moment in the past. I think our institutions are considerably better than they used to be, this does not mean that they are perfect or without their flaws.

  7. 7
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Not a Raging Hypocrite. A Raging something. Something good.

  8. 8
    Silentbob

    Understand the difference yet, Bob?

    Yes.
    Thanks so much for writing this, I’m probably not the only one who now has a better understanding of your perspective. I couldn’t have asked for a higher calibre of response.
    Bravo.

    (Oh… and sorry for the bit about the doorknob. ;-) )

  9. 9
    Silentbob

    @ 4 Ms. Daisy Cutter

    Believe it or not, it was mine first! Comes from a childhood nickname (I was kinda shy), not from the movies.

  10. 10
    Stacy

    Kudos to both Steph and Silentbob.

    Concise and well-reasoned arguments, and good sports, FTW.

  11. 11
    jesse

    @bspiken — I think you misunderstand the Second Amendment. A lot of people seem to think it’s to keep people armed against the government but I’d argue it is a lot more complicated than that — and the relative lack of case law isn’t helping.

    Remember, the first part of the amendment refers to a well regulated militia, and that is almost by definition a governmental function, at least in a loose sense. (It depends at that point if you think the militia was part of the government at all and at which level).

    It’s also far from clear what “right to bear arms means” in that sense. I mean, it wasn’t meant to allow people to raise private armies, right? So the 18th century equivalent would be employing my own cavalry, maybe. Or having a stack of armed ships. Even then they called that piracy, you know?

    I do recognize that the British government was worried about armed groups, but at the same time you can’t ignore that the government didn’t have an army, ot really, and that professional armies that we would be familiar with are really a Civil War and afterwards phenomenon.

    So, when you start talking about the monopoly on violence the state has, and where that begins and ends, I always felt the 2nd Amendment was a bit of a red herring. Even violent revolutions don’t work unless they have a certain amount of support. And I have been to the old USSR. THe reason that collapsed had as much to do with simple non-cooperation as anything else. (Like, imagine if all the people in gov’t offices just decided to randomly not come to work or take smoke breaks all day).

  12. 12
    Dalillama

    @bspiken
    Yes, it is a good thing for the government to have a monopoly on legitimate violence. Even in despotic regimes prone to capital punishment and arbitrary laws, the rate of violence (state and nonstate) is lower by an order of magnitude than the rate of violence, and particularly violent death, in nonstate societies.

  13. 13
    anfractuous

    Super post! And kudos, Bob, for your graceful acceptance of well-reasoned argument. I’ve almost forgotten that this is how it’s supposed to work in this era of faith-based assertions and flame wars. This is why I read this blog.

  14. 14
    Stephanie Zvan

    Thanks, Bob. I appreciate the response.

  15. 15
    Ms. Daisy Cutter, General Manager for the Cleveland Steamers

    Bob, good on you for understanding what Stephanie was saying here.

  16. 16
    Jodi

    Can we frame this whole post/thread and hang it on the wall?

  17. 17
    bspiken

    @Jesse,

    Yes, while I agree that the “well regulated militia” doesn’t really reads as “Bob gets a cavalry division, Jeff an infantry, and Judie a supply train”, it does however talks about a civilian involvement in military matters to a higher degree than say an english commoner, as you say we are talking about a good couple of centuries ago, the private armies were all the rage in Europe and the second amendment seems (to me) a shot at collectivization of a sort in said private armies. Now this does at least hints to a lack of monopoly of violence by the state (as say the crown had the monopoly for violence on England).

    As for the “right to bear arms” I think it is a bit tangential, because the point here is: to bear arms for what? In what matter is the use of violence legally permitted? What are the police/army/border patrol/FBI/CIA allowed to do and what is the average citizen recourse of defense against them?

    Now I know that the answers to all these questions is the current law system, this is the point I’m discussing, it feels that the US are in a cold war with its state and the different branches of the government, where the citizens feel unsafe so they vote for an public official who would be say tougher on crime, so the politician would increase either the weaponry or the legal reach of said branch, then the branch uses this increased weaponry/legal reach causing people to feel even more unsafe and thus continuing the cycle.

    @ Dalillama,
    Yes, of course I do not mean that the state shouldn’t have a certain monopoly on violence, I am trying to discuss the limits of said monopoly.

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