After a few conversations I want to clarify things I’ve said before. Lately, I’ve said, here and on my podcast, that protests and violence are justified responses to some of the things going on in the US right now.
I do not believe that violence is a go to solution. It is a last resort. Peaceful protests and civil disobedience ought to be our first line of defense and we should do everything we can to prevent violence and refrain from it.
However, I also believe, and I may be wrong, that the moral authority of government over its constituents depends on the (tacit) consent of those constituents to be governed (this is complicated and isn’t in my very limited area of expertise, so I will leave that principle vague). Once a GROUP of citizens feel they are not being represented by their government, and they have good reason to believe their government is working against them (without any sort of moral justification), then a lack of consent to be governed is enough, in my mind, to justify a GROUP of people engaging in civil disobedience (unless there’s some sort of extenuating circumstances… this is messy and complex, and I don’t have the precise solutions). In cases like the Ahmaud Arbery murder, it is clear that the government covered up the killing. If, after the people demanded justice, the government willfully covered this up and impeded justice, I think it would be totally justified to have massive protests. If these didn’t work, I think it would be justified to forcefully depose the leaders responsible. Why? Again, because I think the authority of the government totally depends upon the consent of the people (vague, again). Similarly, if our federal or state governments continue to do nothing about the pandemic, and indeed work against the interests of the vast majority, it is justified, in my mind, to protest, and, if that fails to accomplish anything, to forcefully depose government officials.
Again, I’m not an expert on this stuff; I’ve only lightly read Locke, Marx, Rawls, etc. My overall takeaway from these readings is just this: the government exists and has authority to govern because of a (tacit, a-historical, immaterial) social contract. This is messy and I could be wrong about this whole framework. The government and governmental property are owned by the citizens. The function of appointing leaders to govern is so that each individual has time to specialize, to work on what they need/want/deem proper to work on. No one can do everything by themselves. It’s necessary to form a society, and govern that society through some form of representative government. Once the government no longer strives to fulfill that goal (the goal of allowing people to flourish and function while freeing them from the burden of being judge, jury, legislator, cop, soldier), then the government no longer has legitimate authority. We should first work to peacefully change this. If that fails, then civil disobedience, and even force (i.e. violence) seems to me to be justified when decided on by a group (again, messy, because we’d have to decide what constitutes a group). But justified only in so far as there are no other good options, and in so far as the function of force is meant to restore government to those goals.
From my POV, the US government no longer has this goal, if it ever did, and massive, peaceful protests are necessary. In some cases, I think it is a real possibility that force will, in the future, be the only means of saving the function of government, and fighting for those who are suffering unnecessarily.
I do not think it justified, unless there is no other choice, to hate, use force against, or slander fellow citizens who are not leaders in government. I condition that with “unless there is no other choice,” because there are a significant number of people who will back tyrannical governments and leaders, and force against them may be necessary in extreme circumstances. But these circumstances are not implausible at this point. There are a significant number of white supremacist and violent groups, even militia/paramilitary groups, who are ready to use force against anyone they disagree with. The FBI is very aware that there are plenty of militia groups, and that these pose a major civil threat. So, conflict with fellow citizens may become unavoidable. Remember that our nation fought a Civil War very recently; remember that the Tulsa Race MASSACRE was very recent (in which cops and national guard dropped bombs from PLANES on black Americans for no reason); remember that our fellow citizens were, in massive numbers, part of the KKK until very recently. Remember.
Inaction is a form of action, however, and inaction can be a form of or lead to violence. So do not think that I am claiming violence for only myself; it is a last resort, and it is, sometimes, unavoidable, no matter the side you’re on.
I have linked below to an older blog post of mine, which has sources on some of this stuff. It’s not a very good blog post, but constitutes notes I made from a few years ago when starting to think about this. My views may not be the same anymore. The post is also written awfully, and I think it juvenile. Still, I have lots of links and citations of articles there, particularly one about the threat from fellow citizens.
So, these are my views on violence. It is always an evil, but sometimes, and possibly sometime soon, a necessary or justified evil. It will always be messy; I do not have solutions. But we cannot let fear paralyze us from fighting for change; our ignorance regarding what positive change should consist in cannot paralyze us from trying to change anything. Some change is better than no change, so long as its change in the right direction. We CAN change things. We have that power, even though we can never build a socialist utopia.
Anything I post here must be read through this lens. I do not have this stuff figured out; I never will, and neither will anyone reading this. I am open to changing my thinking, but I currently see no reason to. Are you? Have you considered that a time may very well come that you have to pick sides, even if only in terms of your beliefs, and that picking those sides may put you in violent opposition to your loved ones? Do you see how seriously fragile our society is? We need to at least grapple with the possibility of violence in our lifetimes once all else fails. And all else may fail relatively soon.