The incidence of ideologically motivated violence is growing. From campus talks to political rallies, the conveyors of certain viewpoints are being met with physical force. Why? Because of the tacit approval by many of our intellectual leaders. People are being taught that such a response is not only morally acceptable, but morally desirable. That is, they are being taught that the distinction between thought and action needs to be denied.
Consider the pseudo-concept of “microagression.” College students are told that statements which offend members of various groups are equivalent to acts of violence. In this category, as cited by the University of California, are such statements as: “America is the land of opportunity“; “I believe the most qualified person should get the job”; and “Affirmative action is racist.”
Or consider the assertion that “misgendering a transgendered person”—according to a speaker at the University of Maryland—is “an act of violence.” In fact, according to New York City law you are acting illegally by “repeatedly calling a transgender woman ‘him’ or ‘Mr.’ after she has made clear which pronouns and titles [including ‘ze’ and ‘hir’] she uses.”
Or consider this claim by author Toni Morrison, in accepting the Nobel Prize in literature: “Oppressive speech does more than represent violence. It is violence.”
And if there is no difference between words and action—if communicating certain “wrong” ideas is subject to punishment—there is a corollary: the actual use of force can be exonerated if done in the name of the “right” ideas. So when Berkeley students last February rioted to stop a scheduled speaker from addressing his audience, one professor there proclaimed approvingly: “They attacked property but they attacked it very sparingly, destroying just enough University property to obtain the cancellation order.”
After the Charlottesville episode in August, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights properly condemned the white supremacists for their violence, but refused to also condemn the violence by Antifa (which presumably was using force for the “right” reasons).
When people are exposed to ideas they find objectionable, they are supposedly being “silenced” and their “freedom” curtailed. As one NYU professor maintained, riots that prevent certain views from being heard “should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.”
What these examples illustrate is that if an argument is as bad as a fist, then a fist can be as good as an argument.
This lethal outlook is rooted in a certain philosophy. The actual distinction between thought and action, with respect to the use of force, arises from man’s nature as a rational being. There is a world out there, which we need to understand. The human, conceptual mind is the tool for doing so. Unlike automatic activities of the body, such as blood circulation or digestion, thinking must be performed volitionally. You judge whether God exists, whether there is a law of causality, whether the earth is flat, whether 2+2=4. The conclusions you reach are reached by choice. You can be convinced to change your mind, but you cannot be compelled to do so.
Someone who disagrees with you, then, can deal with you by either persuasion or coercion, by words or fists. Words obviously pose no danger to you, since you are free to accept or reject them; they cannot make you act against your will. Physical force, however, can.
Only the use of force—or the threat of it—can make you act contrary to your own judgment. Only the use of force bypasses and negates the victim’s mind. Only the use of force violates rights. For a rational being, reason and force are polar opposites.
Today, though, we’re taught that the rational mind is a myth. Our intellectuals tell us that there is no objective reality—no truths to be discovered, only “truths” to be invented. Our ideas, they declare, are the product of our class or race or gender. That is, our views are not volitionally arrived at, but are implanted in us as a result of our membership in some tribe.
To those who accept this deterministic notion, there is no fundamental difference between expressing disagreement by words or by fists. If there is no such thing as self-generated thinking, but only passive, conditioned responses, then there is no difference between aiming an argument at someone’s mind or a gun at his head. It’s all “compulsion.”
If reason is out, what’s left is brute emotion. Which means that the truth or falsehood of any viewpoint becomes irrelevant. If you say affirmative action is merely another form of racism, it doesn’t matter whether you’re right—all that matters is whether someone doesn’t like what you’re saying. And if he doesn’t, he is entitled to stop you from engaging in such “aggression.”
“This is valid because I can logically prove it” is replaced by “This is valid because I feel strongly about it.” Or, more precisely, “This is valid because my collective feels strongly about it.” Indeed, logic is regularly dismissed as the oppressive, and biased, tool of “white privilege.”
Rationality is the method of an individual committed to knowing what is true. Emotionalism is the method of a mob seeking to escape the responsibility of judging right and wrong. When reason is disparaged, people will subordinate themselves to some collective and follow its dictates. The individual’s core identity and his basic values will be molded by the group.
This kind of “identity politics” has long been preached by the left, and now the “alt-right” embraces it too. The left, including groups like Antifa, hates the profit-seeking businessman and wants an all-powerful socialist state, ruled by the “proletariat.” The “alt-right” hates immigrants and racial minorities and wants an all-powerful fascist state, ruled by white nationalists. Both hate capitalism, the system based on the primacy of the individual and of individual rights—the system that opposes all forms of collectivism—the system that denounces any initiation of force, for whatever motive, by both private citizens and the government—the only system to which the label “right,” if it is to stand for a viewpoint opposite that of the left, legitimately belongs.
If the evil of force is to be categorically repudiated, it is the value of reason that must be categorically upheld.♦♦
[This was published at HuffPost, 11/1/17]