There’s an idea going round now, inside all the rest of it, that anything short of violent resistance is, at best, appeasement, and at worst, tacit collaboration. It’s the language of extremes that admits of only two distinctions (what is formally called a false dilemma): those who are with us — where you’re only truly with us if you’re with us in full — and those who enable the enemy, in whole or in part.
This view orients the world and everyone in it by their perceived proximity to the enemy. We are, of course, furthest away — meaning there is no one further (no one more righteous). Everyone else is “in the middle.” So we yell at them, because if everyone “in the middle” was doing as much as us, the enemy would already be defeated.
I get it. I mean, so many of us feel legitimately powerless right now. That powerlessness turns to frustration, and frustration will always find an outlet. Sort of like blaming all Muslims for terrorism. Or Mexicans for low wages. It reduces a complex world to a simple one. It provides a clear prescription for action. And it reassures us we’re the good guys.
As ideologies go, it hits the fuckin’ jackpot.
And to the degree it’s cathartic for you to fantasize about assaulting strangers on the street, fine. I’m a novelist. That kind of fiction is my stock in trade — that the struggle is worthy, that you can always tell the good guys from the bad, and that the wicked get their comeuppance in the end.
But this isn’t fiction. Captain America isn’t going to drop from an airplane and punch Adolf Hitler on the jaw. In fact, punching anyone on the jaw isn’t — Well. I’ll put it this way. If YOU got punched on the jaw by your enemy, what would you do?
Seriously. Think about it. What would you do?
Call your mom?
Curl into a ball on the floor and cry yourself to sleep?
Or would you use it to spur all your friends to fight that much harder?
If we’re going to overcome, we’ll have to work together, and to work together we need, first, to understand each other, and second, to coordinate. That’s not going to happen while you’re barking above everyone with bits of spittle flying from your teeth.
I’ve found in life that the right thing is often the most difficult. I’ve found in history that violent resistance invites reprisal. And if whom your resisting is in power, it invites repression — and justifies it. History tells me that what actually works is quite a bit harder, that doing the right thing is different than doing what feels good.