Big Head Press


L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 603, January 16, 2011

"Liberalism as it's currently practiced,
isn't so much another point of view as
it is a form of mental illness"


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Good Violence
by Paul Bonneau
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Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Stefan Molyneux has cranked out a large number of podcasts. If you dig through them or look at some of his written material, you will find he abhors violence. His personal measure for goodness, "Universally Preferable Behavior", says violence is bad. He makes an exception for defensive violence, but he's obviously uncomfortable with that just because it is an exception (basic rules of behavior shouldn't have exceptions) and, I believe, because he is a closet pacifist. In one podcast his discomfort, his distaste for admitting the goodness of some violence was so prominent, that he declared (preposterously) that defense almost never works! I suppose he has not seen criminologist Gary Kleck's research that showed Americans defend themselves with firearms (mostly unreported to the police) over 2 million times a year.

I believe the problem here is a semantic one, rather than a logical or ethical one. Talking in terms of "good violence"—defense—and "bad violence"—offense or aggression—makes it seem that they are both, at the most fundamental level, the same. That they are both basically violence. And violence is bad, right?

Admittedly, both do share a few characteristics. For example, both can lead to blood on the ground. But then, so can tripping and bashing your head on a rock; we don't call that violence.

Are defense and offense fundamentally the same, or fundamentally different?

One test is to ask the question, "What if everybody did it?" It's clear the outcomes would be wildly different. If everybody personally practiced aggression, all the time, the planet would descend into a bloody mess and we would exterminate ourselves. If everybody personally practiced only defense, with no aggression, life would be a paradise and there would be no state. This argues that they are fundamentally different, and that it is semantically misleading to talk of them as either aggressive violence or defensive violence. Better to simply say "aggression" or "defense".

Of course it could never happen that every person in the world would take one of these actions. Society always includes a small percentage of sociopaths. But this would not significantly change the outcome. If the vast majority practiced only defense, the sociopaths would never get into power.

Molyneux is getting upset over a semantic anomaly. There is nothing ethically questionable about defense. Pacifists are not more moral than people who defend themselves and their families. I'd argue that pacifists are less moral, anti-social in a way, because after being preyed on, they leave the aggressor able and encouraged to prey further; while a defender often does not. It's hard to continue your aggression when you are dead.

I was watching a TV series called "The Pillars of the Earth", about England in the middle ages when power was maintained, as it always is (including these supposedly more enlightened times) by threats, murder, theft, rape, and torture. Well, the series is just Hollywood (or other) fantasy of course, but they get the theme right. The peasants are just pawns to be disposed of when needed. Last episode a bunch of the King's men came into a town on horses wielding swords, tearing up the market and setting fire to the wool and other goods the peasants had spent a lot of back-breaking labor to accumulate—not to mention the killing and raping going on. All because of a power struggle in the ruling class.

Life's like that. Much as we hate to admit it, might does make right. The strong will always trample the weak. Ethical correctness ceases to matter when you get a sword in the gut. The thing to do is not be weak.

I couldn't help but wonder, watching that show, what one man with a rifle, transported back in time to that place, could have done. We no longer are defenseless peasants; or at least we don't have to be. When will we become fed up with those who plunder us? I suspect it will be pretty soon. But as usual, the pacifists will be no help. As Orwell said, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

Now, I am actually a great believer in the power of peacefully refusing to cooperate with one's enslavement. And it's always better strategically to let the tyrant strike the first blow. The question is, what do you do when that blow has been struck?

Addendum: The above is as I originally wrote it. Someone who I showed it to, thought I was going too far with the statement that "...as usual, the pacifists will be no help." On reflection I believe his objection is correct. Of course pacifists can help; just not in all ways. But there are lots of ways...


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