Be Ye Not As Doormats

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-08-18 12:00:00 No comments

Brad Warner released a video recently: "Is It OK To Punch Nazis?" His take is, to my mind, not even all that controversial. He doesn't think it's OK unless the Nazi in question punches first. Otherwise you end up recapitulating all the worst aspects of your opponent, because then it gets easy to contrive more and more situations where it's OK to punch someone.

I mostly agree. I also think there are plenty of other things one can do before throwing punches that are at least as effective as weapons against fascism. (It's apparently more effective to use humor and psychological jiu-jitsu anyway.) Part of the problem is that we tend to wait and wait until there's nothing left to do but throw punches at such people. But if you have literally no other choice, that's another story.

I think part of the reason we're now asking whether or not it's OK to punch Nazis is because we've been ignoring the whole issue for far too long. For most of the past fifteen years or so, Nazism in the United States was a footnote, a back-pages laughing-stock. Some people didn't even think it existed anymore. That only made me all the more worried it was growing undetected, like mold behind wallboard. Those that were paying attention could have told you this problem was a good deal more virulent than most of us gave it credit for being, but for the most part those Cassandras went unheard.

So it's not something that only just now erupted; it's been here the whole time. It's just now we have no choice but to notice it, and now we need to not blink or look away in the hopes that it vanishes on its own. It didn't do that before; why would it do that now, of all times? Fascism is ugly but it is also not stupid; it knows what it wants, and it knows best that it can take it when no one's looking all that hard.

I've also realized, when reflecting on all this, how people have weird ideas about Buddhism/Zen and pacifism. The general idea in Buddhism is, don't start things. Don't instigate. Set a very high bar for what constitutes "starting things", and adhere to it as best you can. If someone attacks you, defend yourself — but don't let the definition of "attack" or "defend" expand freely to consume the whole of your life. Interrogate those definitions constantly. Remind yourself that it is too easy to assume bad motives on someone else's part. Violence is a last resort, and only for the sake of dealing with immediate dangers; it's a course correction, not a policy.

But nowhere are you commanded to lie down first for people who have no interest in building consensus or moderation, who are not interested in sharing the world with you. Nowhere is it written that you have to put yourself under the heels or the wheels of such people. Nowhere are you commanded to be a doormat.

Tags: Buddhism Zen fascism violence