17 Aug 2017

Thoughts on the “Vice” Episode on Charlottesville

Libertarianism, Pacifism No Comments

Partly because I had technical hang-ups and partly because I wanted to collect my thoughts, I’ve waited a bit before saying anything publicly about this shocking video on Charlottesville. So here are my reactions, and again I’m closing the comments on this because I think that will help to contain further fighting.

==> It will possibly be the case that this post will anger/disappoint everyone who reads it. If so, I hope that’s because I am truly trying to step outside of the standard reactions to the episode, i.e. either “we told you so” or “but what about antifa!” It’s also true that some of what I say below is self-serving but I’ve waited a couple days to search my motivations and I hope my remarks are helpful.

==> I used the word “shocking” quite literally when I’m describing the episode. I know people post that kind of crap (said in the video) online from anonymous accounts, but I was truly shocked that people would sit there with a camera rolling and say those kinds of things. So for some of you who may have thought (based on past reactions from me to concerns about the “alt right”) that I was being naive, fair enough, I am admitting that it’s still hard for me to believe that people are actually marching with Nazi flags and saying things like that on camera.

==> For those in certain circles in the libertarian community, the worst aspect of this video is that it features a guy Chris Cantwell. He used to be a part of what we can call the “liberty movement.” It’s because of his presence in the video that I am making this post.

==> However, before I talk about Cantwell, I want to first say that to me, the fact that former self-described libertarian(s) have anything to do with this stuff, is not nearly as disturbing as the fact that self-described Christians do. It’s not simply that Christians are supposed to show they are Jesus’ disciples through their love, but that on the specific issue of anti-Semitism, God’s chosen people were Jewish. Their Lord is Jewish. His inner circle were Jews. The author of much of the New Testament (Paul) was Jewish, an expert in the Mosaic Law. As far as “They killed Jesus, His blood is on their hands!” well yes, but the Bible teaches that we all killed Jesus through our sins. His blood is on all of our hands, and it’s what cleanses us. So in addition to being repugnant, to hear self-described Christians preaching hatred of the Jewish people is nonsensical to me.

==> Regarding Cantwell: Since I have interacted with this guy and to see him end up in that HBO episode, it is shocking and sad. I could tell from the transcript of a speech he gave (years ago) that he was very depressed, and it looks like he apparently descended further into his own personal hell.

==> For those who don’t know the backstory, this guy had started out as an “edgy” comedian / political commentator type. He built up a following on social media of people who appreciated his lack of concern for “PC thought police” for his jokes. The more outrageous he got, the more people began backing away. (To be clear, these were just crude and mean things, I had never even heard about the anti-Semitic stuff until watching the Vice video. But then again, he really hadn’t been on my radar for a while so perhaps people who were more familiar with him were not surprised by the Vice video.)

==> I struggled a lot with this last major point, because believe me, I realize how defensive and “but what about!” it sounds. But I really do mean the following sincerely. Recently I’ve had a run in with someone demanding that I sign this pledge to demonstrate that I oppose the ideas of Nazi Germany. In general, I think lists like this are goofy, and in particular I’m not signing something because somebody demands that I do.

In light of Cantwell being in that video, I imagine the people who agree that libertarians should sign that pledge will be thinking, “See? Even if you and your close buddies don’t personally endorse those views, it’s problematic that for some reason, it attracts a certain type.”

I am pushing back against that argument right now; that is the sole purpose of me bringing this up. First of all, Cantwell rejected libertarianism precisely because it did not allow for enough violence, in his book. He literally wrote a blog post criticizing Rothbard’s writings on proportionality. So that’s very good for the integrity of the libertarian movement; its principles–enunciated by Rothbard–eject someone who likes violence.

Second, one of the people who signed that pledge has literally endorsed the legitimacy of mass murder of rich people on Twitter. This is well known in libertarian circles; it’s not like I follow the guy’s Twitter account. This guy also subscribes to the labor theory of value and is definitely a leftist as opposed to a right-wing libertarian.

So, does anyone think we need to stop and set up a pledge, showing that as libertarians we reject mass murder and are familiar with all of the communist purges of property owners in the 20th century? No, nobody thinks we need to do that. I have no idea if that guy’s tweet was just a bad joke or what, but nobody is accusing the people around him of wink-winking at left-wing radicals who smash property and kill capitalists.

So yes, the HBO video was truly shocking to me and I am reflecting on whether my reactions to all the chaos is still correct. Yet I don’t think there is any real danger of white supremacists gaining power anytime soon; these people are all being ridiculed, fired, and threatened with violence to the applause of the entire world. (Ask yourself: Five years from now, one college professor tells his class, “Sure Stalin killed millions, but he did some good things too,” and another college professor says, “Sure Hitler killed millions, but he did some good things too.” Which one gets fired? Do you seriously think there is any doubt on that question?) Even so, a week ago I would not have predicted what I saw on that HBO video, so I am reflecting on my overall assessment of the situation.

What I am quite certain of is that the work I’ve been doing, and that of my closest colleagues, is conducive to human liberty and peace, and that none of us is at all trying to make the type of people in that video feel welcome. If I haven’t engaged in public denunciations on social media, it’s because I think that is counterproductive. The people featured in that episode all grew up in this country learning that our society thinks Hitler is literally the worst person who ever lived. (Seriously: When you do a philosophical thought experiment in the US, you say, “If you had a time machine and could kill baby Hitler…”) It’s not that these people didn’t get the memo, and were simply misinformed on this point. For whatever reason, they have decided to go down a path where they are utter social pariahs. I truly do not think public denunciations of Nazi Germany are what will help the country right now.

In contrast, I think people saying, “Initiating violence is always wrong, even if it’s against people espousing hateful ideas” are doing a great service, at risk of being denounced themselves. They are the truly courageous ones right now, in my book.

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