goldslaw (goldslaw) wrote,

Gold's first law: another example

Back in the 1970s, when people were really worked up about the war in Vietnam, some anti-war protesters started doing things like lying down on railroad tracks and chaining themselves to gates, to block shipments to and from factories that made stuff for the war. It probably seemed a "logical extension" of civil disobedience to the protesters, but it set a bad precedent. Then came PETA and other animal activists. Simply blocking people wasn't enough. They started breaking into labs, destroying equipment, letting the animals loose — often with no regard for how animals that have been raised by humans are to survive in the wild... And sometimes they even attacked the researchers. So "protest" had been taken one step further:
  • First there was the simple refusal to cooperate — to pay your taxes or do something else you were ordered to do.
  • Then there was the refusal to stop doing something. This was Gandhi's technique. The British in India kept a monopoly on making salt, Gandhi led his people to the seashore to make salt. And when the soldiers came and beat them with truncheons they just stood there and took it, until they were beaten to the ground. A highly effective technique, when the beatings were reported in the (free) British press.
  • Then came actively blocking other people from using things: sit-ins, "sit down" strikes, blocking railroad tracks to defense plants, etc.
  • Then came destroying and stealing property
Then came the anti-abortion protesters. They, too, felt they had the moral high ground. After all, the abortion clinics were murdering babies (from their point of view). So they went from picketing, to blocking entrances, to destroying property, and then to actually killing the doctors. And now we have Glenn Beck, and Bill O'Reilly actively preaching hatred. When the SLA ("Symbionese Liberation Army") went around killing people, almost everybody, including almost all of the extreme left, was horrified. But now we have people on TV preaching that same kind of hatred, and all the Right can say is "Freedom of Speech".

Yeah, I agree. "Freedom of Speech": they have a right to say what they want as long as it's not a direct threat against anybody or suggesting that people commit a specific crime. But that doesn't mean you have to listen to them, buy the products advertised on their shows, calling in to tell them how great they are. So I have a message for the Conservative movement (at the moment): you might just want to tone the rhetoric down a notch or two. And try to reel in the crazies in your movement, the "lone wolves" who go around killing abortionists and those who encourage them with websites listing the names and addresses of the doctors, and drawing a line through their names when they are killed. Because whatever tactics you approve of for "your side" today, you can bet those same tactics — and maybe the next step beyond — will be used by the "other side" next decade.

And the same message to the Left wing. Tone down the violent rhetoric, so and so would be better off dead, etc. To the extent that you can find and influence them, try to get your crazy extremists to stick to words and not actions. Because whatever you legitimize now, will be used against you the next turn of the wheel. What's sauce for the goose is good for the gander.

If you want to engage in "civil disobedience", I suggest you go back and read Thoreau's essay of the same name. Thoreau's disobedience was just that: a refusal to obey orders (in his case, to pay taxes that would be used to enforce slavery and pay for an unjust war against Mexico). It did not involve active resistance — trying to block entrances or injure or kill those who were engaged in the injustice — but simply refusing to be a part of it. This is a critical distinction: trying to actively stop people is in fact a form of violence. It's a little like the bully who stands in the way of the little guy, and every time the little guy tries to go around, the bully steps in front of him. It's easier to see with a big guy/little guy scenario, but it's still violence if it's the little guy doing it — or a group of little guys, in the case of war protesters. The legal term is "false imprisonment." Another part of Thoreau's civil disobedience was an acceptance of the consequences. He would refuse to pay his taxes, and go to jail for his refusal. He didn't argue that his disobedience was more just than the Government's and therefore he should be let out (in fact, somebody else paid his taxes and he was freed).

So, if you are going to refuse orders as a form of protest against injustice, you should be prepared to go to jail, or whatever punishment is typically given for that refusal. This a key element that is missing from a lot of modern "civil disobedience". Anti-abortion activists murder doctors who perform abortions, but they do not turn themselves into the police afterward — they act sneakily and try to get away with it. Similarly for PETA activists who destroy labs and free the animals. If you are going to violate the law as a form of political protest, at least have the courage to take your lumps for it.

One caveat here: I'm 63 years old. When you're as old as I am, things don't seem quite so urgent. You've lived through a few crises, and you've learned a few important lessons:
    a) 90% of the problems you see coming down the road at you will go off in a ditch before they reach you, and most of the rest will get solved, eventually. Often, even, soon enough to prevent a disaster.
    b) The World has a certain amount of inertia. It takes time to get things done. Yes, it's urgent: we are in danger of losing millions, maybe billions of species. We may end up walking around coated with opaque zinc oxide, or just spending all our time indoors. People are getting murdered every day in Darfur (as I write this, it may be somewhere else if you are reading this a couple of years later). Still, impatience doesn't solve the problem. You need to start soon (because it takes time to move the world) and keep working at it.

But trying to get results today just pisses everybody off. And finally, if you have reached the point where you think things are so bad that extreme solutions are needed, ask yourself this question: Is the problem so bad that it's worth seeing Civilization destroyed over? Because every time you use extreme tactics, it stretches that thread of agreements that keep us away from each other's throats just a little thinner. I'm reminded of a line from Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold. Cordelia Vorkosigan is looking at the way things are done on Barrayar, which is almost totally alien to her (Betan-raised, democratic) way of thinking. Yet somehow, it works. She thinks of it as "pretending a government into existence" and has a moment of satori: maybe all governments are like that: working because people are willing to pretend that it works. If that willing suspension of disbelief gets strained too hard, people no longer believe in it, and you get violent revolution.

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