I don't want to support racists at all, but I just can't get behind the idea that if someone is peacefully talking, it's okay to beat them, maybe even to death, as long as their views are vile enough. Maybe I'm on the opposite end of Twitter etc from you, but I'm hearing a lot of "punch Nazis or else you're a Nazi supporter" and I can't agree that. (World War II was fighting a war, which is different from brutalizing someone for talking or marching, even if they're doing so to support racism.)
So I have a lot of different perspectives here, none of which fit very well with each other. This is an issue that brings a lot of my principles into conflict.
1. I believe that justice should operate according to rules and limits. It should look like “you committed theft, therefore you must return $X to your victim and perform X hours of community service”, not like “you committed theft, therefore you’re A Thief and should be made to suffer.” I think it’s abhorrent when police beat suspects or prisoners are abused in jail, even if they’re guilty as sin, because cruelty is not justice.
While emotionally I’m not always on board with this, philosophically I think that the concepts of “bad person” and “punishment” are dangerous and toxic, and that it is never okay to declare that a person is so bad that they’re fair game for anything you want to do with them.
2. I believe that it’s better to be the winner than the sympathetic loser. This is something that seems to come up in a lot of conversations about Nazi-punching–the idea that it’ll make them look like the victim and thereby win public sympathy. I’m not on board with this being a major concern. Yes, victimhood can confer some kinds of PR/psychological advantages–but not nearly as many as power can. Ditch the reverse psychology and when you’ve got an opportunity to win a battle by winning it, go for it.
3. I believe that Nazis aren’t the biggest threat out there. Yes, it’s disturbing that there are any out on the streets or the Internet, and it’s really disturbing that the Trump administration seems to want to play footsie with them, but in terms of numbers and political power they’re definitely still on the fringe.
And meanwhile nice normal non-swastika-waving politicians are taking away healthcare from nine million children. Why aren’t we discoursing about punching them?
4. I believe that social messages are powerful. That is, the best way to win people away from Nazi sympathizing isn’t always rational argument–sometimes it’s making the Nazis look pathetic and unpopular. We want to send the message “society doesn’t want these people” loud and clear. A swift punch to the nose will do that. It may not be a logically sound argument, but if it stops people from thinking Nazis are cool or tough, it’s a good thing.
5. I believe that it’d dangerous to create acceptable targets. If it’s okay to punch Nazis, what stops someone from saying “my enemy is like a Nazi” or “they’re a secret Nazi” about someone they just really want to punch? We’ve all seen things like this happen before.
6. I believe at some point you have to separate right from wrong. It’s really appealing to want totally generalizable ethical principles like “all speech should be free” and “never use violence except for physical defense.” It makes us feel safe to have no exceptions–it frees us from fear that tomorrow it’ll be our speech that’s considered hate speech. It feels right and fair.
But sometimes you do have to set some standards. You do have to be unfair and say “it’s okay to have magicians at birthday parties but it’s not okay to have rabid raccoons.” Instead of avoiding all judgments that one thing is better than another, we have to make them correctly. Stop saying “no group is inferior” and get the courage to say “actually, some groups are inferior, such as goddamn Nazis.”
7. I believe that punching Nazis is not really an important discussion. It’s mostly just tough guys on the Internet going on about how tough they’d hypothetically be. Whatever.
Of course, I’ve also gotten in long discussions about whether Simba and Nala are related or what, so who am I to say we should only talk about important things?
8. I believe that punching Nazis is going pretty easy on them, considering. I’m Jewish. Part of my family is from Germany, part from Poland and Hungary. One of my grandmothers had permanent eye and heart damage from untreated illness during the Holocaust. She was also beaten, her father’s business destroyed, and her grandfather shot. My grandfather’s brothers and sisters were all murdered, and we’re still not totally sure when or how, and will never even know where their remains are. My other grandmother didn’t talk much about what happened to her during that time, but she was missing a fingernail.
And Tumblr wants to clutch their pearls about whether it’s okay to give these people a bruise?