Some worthless nobody named Richard Spencer* has caught public imagination because he espouses outrageous and repugnant things. In other times, he would be ignored, as there are and always have been nutjobs who say outrageous and repugnant things. They amount to nothing. They are unworthy of our time and attention. As my pal, Mark Bennett, says, attention is currency. Don’t waste it.
But Spencer stood on a street in Washington, D.C. and, inexplicably, someone put a camera in front of his face and asked him questions. During the course of the interview, someone sucker punched him.
The person who sucker punched Spencer has been doxxed (seriously NSFW and not worthy of even a click). and the forces of love and tolerance have found a new hero.
While it’s rather cheap to be a tough guy on the twitters, since it’s all virtue signalling without any need to actually exert physical energy or take personal risk, a great many of the “good guys,” those who believe themselves to be better, more righteous, the defenders of justice, are applauding this sucker punch. How brave of this fellow to sucker punch this awful person.
At Popehat, Ken White dissects the applause. He begins by Gertruding, no doubt because the nature of readers on the internet to lack the capacity for thought demands he do so to avoid the usual moronic backlash.
1. Nazis are scum.
2. Principles are in a constant struggle with viscera. I want punching Nazis to be acceptable, and find the spectacle of Nazis getting punched to be viscerally satisfying. Jesus Christ and John Donne aside, Nazi suffering does not move me. But I know that sucker-punching someone because their views are evil is wrong.
No doubt this is true. The issue is that it needed to be said at all. In what twisted universe is it necessary to begin by writing “Nazis are scum”? Ours, because so many of you will react to any defense of free speech, to any explanation of why violence in response to speech is wrong, would make Ken an apologist.
3. We have social and legal norms, including “don’t punch people because their speech is evil, and don’t punish them legally.” Applying those norms is not a judgment that the speech in question is valuable, or decent, or morally acceptable.
It’s insanely irrational, yet so many of you, who wrap yourselves in the warmth of your brilliance and self-righteousness, will go there first. If this seems angry, it is. Support of a principle isn’t support of the underlying conduct. Yet, this must be explained over and over to the ignorant mob, who just can’t seem to grasp the concept.
To add insult to injury, the mere utterance of the word “Nazi”** serves as enough of a reason. In Spencer’s case, its application makes better sense, but that fine distinction is lost on people for whom the slide down the intellectual slippery slope comes too easily.
4. In embracing a norm that sucker-punching Nazis is acceptable, remember that you live in a nation of imbeciles that loves calling people Nazis. Also bear in mind that certain aspects of our culture — modern academic culture, for instance — encourages people to think that you’re a Nazi if you eat veal or disagree with them about the minimum wage.
But it’s not merely a negative reason to condemn the applause of violence when it aligns with your feelings. There’s an affirmative, self-serving reason as well.
5. By the way, right now there are tons of people right now who would welcome an emerging social norm that it’s acceptable to punch, say, Black Lives Matter protesters. I know Nazis aren’t remotely comparable. You do too. They disagree. And you’ve handed them the rhetorical tools to defend themselves, and handed the broader populace an excuse to look away. Well done.
When the rationale works for you, that it’s acceptable to punch someone whose speech you find repugnant, it works for others as well. That “you’re right and they’re wrong” doesn’t suffice beyond your explanation to your third-grade teacher.
But Spencer is a Nazi, and if people had punched Nazis back in the 1930s, they wouldn’t have seized Germany, started World War II, put people in camps and ovens? Grow up.
9. America has a certain number of people who are “not Nazis” but enjoy pretending to be Nazis, particularly online, for entertainment or attention. I do not concede that someone who helps normalize Nazism by pretending to be a Nazi for laughs is morally distinguishable from someone who sincerely promotes Nazism.
The internet has created a platform for every wannabe big mouth and nutjob to cosplay his inner idiot, and find out there are others similarly loony. They aren’t serious. They are nobodies desperately seeking the attention of others. And here you are, giving them your attention. Squandering your attention. And in the process, selling out principle for a cheap sucker punch of a nobody.
10. A Nazi getting punched is not by any stretch of the imagination the worst or most important thing that happened yesterday. Talking about it does not imply otherwise. If you’re here to express outrage that I’m not writing about the much more important imminent extinction of the Orlando Purple-Crested Taintsnorter or something, kindly go be you someplace else.
This isn’t about Richard Spencer. This really isn’t about some brave macho guy sucker punching him. This is about how easily you’ve sold out free speech, about how quickly you, the passionate believers in love and tolerance, teamed up with the Lord of the Flies. And when your hypocrisy is reflected back at you, how you will seize upon any idiocy to justify the specialness of your applause of violence against some worthless nobody. As if your excuses to behave just like those you revile make it different.
*For those who aren’t obsessed with politics, Spencer is described as the “leading ideologue of the alt-right movement.” After the election, he held a convention attended by 200 people that the New York Times deemed worthy of coverage.
**The word has been forbidden here since the inception of this blawg because it’s the “go-to” word to rationalize any behavior. See Godwin’s Law.