Ever since some guy was recorded punching Richard Spencer in the face, there’s been a public conversation about whether it’s appropriate to punch Nazis. From the start, what seemed odd to me about this conversation is how abstract it is. The vast majority of people who are in favor of punching Nazis are not literally going out there and punching Nazis. And now that we’re seeing literal Nazi demonstrations, I believe we will discover that it’s not for lack of opportunity. I’m left wondering what exactly the argument is about.
If I said I advocated punching Nazis, I would feel disingenuous, given that I’m not actually doing it. There is an alt-right rally in Berkeley tomorrow, just a few blocks from here, and I did not have any plans to punch anyone. As for other people, they’re going to punch Nazis or not punch Nazis regardless of what I say about it. They don’t need my permission.
I think the argument is basically about whether we should offer moral support for Nazi punchers. So here are my thoughts on that.
I would keep this conversation grounded in a realistic context. The most likely context is a protest. In that situation, I basically think protestors should follow the guidance of the organizers and the will of other protestors. One thing I don’t like about the local violent protestors is that they have saddled all the other protestors with an image that they don’t necessarily support. For example, about 90% of the protestors against Milo Yiannopolous earlier this year were peaceful, but the 10% has dominated most narratives. I don’t think these narratives have been very positive, and I would prefer if it were mostly about the peaceful protestors.
On the other hand, maybe there are situations where other protestors would be happy to be supported by Nazi punchers. Defensive punching for one. And maybe there are other situations I am unaware of, because I don’t pretend to be an expert on protesting tactics.
Basically, I don’t support literally punching Nazis, but I don’t take a principled stance against it. I think it makes sense for the law to take a stand against punching Nazis. But civil disobedience is a thing. I’m also sufficiently enthusiastic about game theory to realize that threatening violence is an important defensive strategy.
In talking with my robot boyfriend about this, I observed that there appears to be broader support for getting Nazis fired from their jobs, even though getting them fired probably causes them more harm than punching them. I’m not actually sure how to resolve that particular dilemma. Either people should support both, oppose both, or figure out what the relevant difference is.
Another observation I heard, was that during WWII, the appropriate response to Nazis was not to punch them. It was to shoot them. Of course, we’re not in WWII right now.