Activists must stop equating what they dislike to physical brutality. An opinion is never a punch in the face.
I really like Persuasion, but sometimes the arguments feel a little too nuanced and divorced from the context. Of course people are equating speech with violence, because speech is protected in this country and violence is not. If your opinion is violence, I've made your opinion illegal. People who argue that speech is violence are opponents of the very first amendment to our Constitution. That should be argument enough against it.
For the longest time, I could not see the most obvious fact about the woke and their verbal violence nonsense. But I find myself in good company. Many are discussing whether mere speech can be violent, and none have raised the most obvious examples.
The examples that we all miss are the woke shaming and canceling people. Cancelling, by all accounts, does real, tangible harm. It causes depression, persistent loss of sleep, loss of friends, and loss of jobs and careers. Physical violence is not just kids shoving each other or wrestling. Violence is moving beyond causing temporary discomfort. Sure, it’s hard to draw the line precisely.
But canceling can go far beyond the point of temporary discomfort, and more to the point it is far worse than any of the examples the woke label as verbal violence. So how do we miss it?
Here is an example picked at random from many that are ubiquitous on the web.
“I saw this last night in a TV episode I was watching. A child being bullied finally stood up to the bully, punching him. The bully’s nose was broken. The school punished the child being bullied and forced him to apologize to the bully for punching him. Not one person addressed WHY the child felt the need to punch him, only that it happened. The bully not only got away with being a bully but then got rewarded as the “victim” of an “attack” that was self-defense.”
The woke always, always claim they are the ones being attacked.
Now watch Nicholas Christakis, of the Yale Halloween incident, being shamed and bullied.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9IEFD_JVYd0 (only a minute)
He was called a racist and then this was screamed in his face “Then why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down! … you’re disgusting.” 1000 people on campus signed a petition blamed him and his wife for verbal violence. But after reading a great deal about this incident I did not once find anyone saying this attacker was being verbally violent. Certainly, the woke never admit that even their most devastating attacks are verbal violence.
For reasons I don’t understand, blaming the victim works. Bullies do this constantly, and somehow it blinds people to the reality that is the reverse of their claims. It doesn’t blind everyone, but I still find it shocking how well it works. When Trump lies, or cheats, or incites violence, his first line of defense is to claim that whoever points this out is a liar, a cheater, or has incited violence.
The woke are bullies. Expert bullies. And even though we halfway see through them, we still fail to notice that they are responsible for nearly all of the verbal violence committed in the fights between the woke and the rest of us who are left of center. Any discussion of whether the woke are exaggerating or inventing verbal violence, should begin and end with an examination of woke violence.
Equating everything we don't like or that makes us uncomfortable with "violence" is one of the key authoritarian moves of the contemporary academy. Its twin is the feeling--therefore fact--of unsafety that constitutes proponents' next move. As Rachman points out in his Foucault and Butler examples, this is ironically another top-down move. That is, the equation of discomfort, even intellectual discomfort, with violence didn't spring from the popular grassroots as a shift in language or usage. It's a facet of radical ideology that's deliberately perpetrated by intellectuals. When you ask students about this conception of violence as I have, it's clear that what may have begun as a cynical blurring of the meaning of violence by intellectuals is taken as concrete fact by so many students. They're puzzled that you could think that they mean anything other than, you know, violence. It's VIOLENT to disagree with any dimension of their belief system, they'll assert, as though such an assertion speaks for itself.
Holding these conversations (and knowing their intellectual provenance) is a useful primer for watching Republican elites make the cynical argument that Pennsylvania violated its own laws by extending the time for receiving votes cast by mail while mobs chant STOP THE STEAL.
Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" covered this terrain -- the abuse of language -- many decades ago. The deeper issue is totalitarian ideology and its impetus to breakdown trust mechanisms in society. Language -- or more precisely shared meaning -- is a key requirement of civil society. Without agreement on terms and sanctions for misuse of terms, we are just primate enclaves screaming nonsense at each other and throwing rocks, never arriving at progress or consensus.
"Butler, writing in The Force of Nonviolence, remarked on how the authorities often label dissenters as “violent” in order to muzzle them, redefining peaceful demonstrations as purported mobs that must be dispersed. “The power to attribute violence to the opposition itself becomes an instrument by which to enhance state power, to discredit the aims of the opposition, or even to justify their radical disenfranchisement, imprisonment, and murder,” she argues."
The very fact that this tactic works for the woke suggests that they are not, in fact, some abused minority. They have enormous cultural power, and this "violence" messaging is coming from a place of cultural power. I'm not suggesting that many of the groups on behalf of which these arguments are deployed are powerful; I am suggesting that those who exercise this power are using the identity of those they purport to protect and lift up as an excuse to commit the same "violence" they claim to abhor. They see themselves as the beleaguered defenders of the voiceless when they are in fact crushing every voice but their own -- even the voices of exactly those they claim to aid if those have the temerity to question the prevailing dogma.
The loathsome gender-reveal parties are really sex-reveal parties, though correctly naming them wouldn't make them any less ridiculous.
I will leave it to Persuasion's writers to further discuss the conflation of the terms 'sex' and 'gender', and the degradation of the meaning of 'woman'.
I agree totally, but...
Language evolves, and frequently we don’t like it. But we can’t stop it. To me, violence means physical harm caused by a physical act. But to others violence only means harm. I don’t like that, it ruins a useful word. But I think all we can really do is try to be clear. Now we have to know to distinguish “physical violence” from “non-physical violence” when communicating. Stupid, maybe, but we can deal with it.
Maybe there are existing laws or rules about “violence” that will have to be reworded, but that can be done.
Now don’t get me started on “lying,” which used to mean “knowingly uttering a falsehood with intent to deceive” and now seems to mean simply “uttering a falsehood.”
Well written. The vagueness in Mill’s definition of violence speaks to how it has been expanded in scope. I wonder if it would help if we at the very least came up with another term that spoke to this grey area. And reserved the word “violence” for what it actually is.
"But we cannot understand society by squinting at it; we need to look clearly." love that sentence
What often gets lost in these questions is the importance or place of intentionality, in favour of impact. If I took a swing at someone's face, but missed, there'd be no doubt in anyone's mind that I still engaged in violence. Even if the other person was a heavyweight champion boxer and so truly unafraid by my pathetic action, it would still count as violence because of its intent. If, however, I bloodied someone's nose with my elbow while turning around to point at a building, my lack of intention to harm would disqualify this as an act of violence automatically, despite having caused actual pain and possibly even lasting damage.
I reckon we can stretch (and I do mean stretch) a definition of violence to include speech if there is a genuine intent to cause some degree of (emotional) harm or to terrorise. Particularly if also exercised from a position of relative power.
For words that cause harm or offense as a sincerely unintended consequence of expressing one's view, or as "collateral damage" because one knows one cannot make a valid, good faith argument without offending someone somewhere, I think another word should be found. Accident? Bad luck? Not sure, but I am unwilling to concede it is violence, and it feels very much like bullying when it is insisted that I should.
I think there's room for argument here, but limiting a 21st century definition of "violence" to "a punch in the face" seems pretty unevolved. History is rife with examples of moments when large majorities stood by and watched minorities get physically brutalized or murdered and did nothing. You'd have a hard time convincing me the decision to look away during the holocaust (which many "normal" Germans did) wasn't an act of violence. Or the impulse of nice white folks to remain silent when Freedom Riders were being beaten for speaking out. At what point does condoning violence become equivalent to violence? I agree the word might be overused, but I think this piece oversimplifies the matter.
Wow! Just spectacular. Philosophically astute.
Wow. Thank You.