Thursday, April 1, 2010

When Politics Ends & Violence Begins

There is a surprisingly good article in the NYT, When Does Political Anger Turn to Violence? I expected it to be another article claiming that the the Tea Party groups are right wing militias in thin disguise who spend their evenings passing around dog eared copies of the Turner Diaries. There were some suggestions of that, but overall it was a serious article articulating one of the points I have made on this blog several times before - that when a group feels their voice is silenced and their vote is stolen or dilluted, that they are shut out of the political process, blood in the streets will likely follow. The NYT agrees:

. . . So far, experts say that the discontent pooling on the right (anti-Washington and anti-Wall Street) and to a lesser degree on the left (anti-Wall Street) has some, but not yet all, of the ingredients needed to foment radicalism.

“As long as there is some possibility of getting results by political means, the chances that any group will turn truly radical are small, and maybe vanishingly small,” said Clark McCauley, a professor of psychology at Bryn Mawr College. But if those efforts to engage are thwarted, he said, the equation changes.

The risk that angry words themselves will incite violence is higher when they are aimed at a despised minority, or a feuding enemy, if history is any guide. . . .

Furthermore, the psychological distance between talk and action — between fantasizing about even so much as brick heaving and actually doing it — is far larger for a typical, peaceable citizen than many assume. In the aftermath of the July 2007 London subway bombings, for instance, polls found that about 5 percent of Muslims living in England said that they believed violence was justified in defense of Islam. “That projects to about 50,000 Muslims in the U.K.,” Dr. McCauley said, “but very, very few of them are acting violently.”

Kathleen Blee, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh, said the same was true even for groups that consider violence a central tenet. “In the white power groups I study, people can have all kind of crazy racist ideas, spend their evenings reading Hitler online, all of it,” she said, “but many of them never do anything at all about it.”

Protest groups that turn from loud to aggressive tend to draw on at least two other elements, researchers say. The first is what sociologists call a “moral shock” — a specific, blatant moral betrayal that, when most potent, evokes personal insults suffered by individual members, said Francesca Polletta, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine, and author of “It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics.”

This shock may derive from an image . . . It can also reside in a “narrative fragment,” like the Rodney King beating, which triggered a riot all on its own. . . .

The second element is a specific target clearly associated with the outrage. A law to change. A politician to remove. A company to shut down. “If the target is too big, too vague — say, the health care bill, which means many things — well, then the anger can be hard to sustain,” Dr. Polletta said. “It gets exhausting.”

Not that the rage, or the risk of escalation, necessarily goes away. If a group with enduring gripes is shut out of the political process, and begins to shed active members, it can leave behind a radical core. This is precisely what happened in the 1960s, when the domestic terrorist group known as the Weather Underground emerged from the larger, more moderate anti-war Students for a Democratic Society, Dr. McCauley said. “The SDS had 100,000 members and, frustrated politically at every step, people started to give up,” he said. “The result was that you had this condensation of a small, more radical base of activists who decided to escalate the violence.”

Given the shifting political terrain, the diversity of views in the antigovernment groups, and their potential political impact, experts say they expect that very few are ready to take the more radical step.

“Once you take that step to act violently, it’s very difficult to turn back,” Dr. Blee said. “It puts the group, and the person, on a very different path.”

As I wrote recently in concuring with a Powerline post, violence has no place in our democracy. But unlike the authors of Powerline, I could see acts by our government that could lead to blood in the streets. In my 40+ years, I never entertained such a thought. That changed when Obama speculated that he might give in to calls on the left to actually prosecute the prior administration over political differences on the Iraq War. An act like that - criminalizing political disputes in an effort to destroy their opposition, could well have led to political violence.


sofa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sofa said...

Is stealing your money violence?
How about wiping out businesses and industries and taking over banks?
Is wiping out the economy of the united states violence?

Is it violence when you must comply, or you will be fined? If you do not pay, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, you will be killed.

The violence is marxism. It is a gun pointed at your head.

Your premise is flawed - You fail to differentiate between defense and tyranny. Defense against violence is the pre-emminent 'natural right', as
expressed by the founding fathers and understood by every free man. Violence is the only way tyrannts have ever been stopped. Ever.

If/when violence is brought to you, you may accept your new master or you may resist, though it be uncomfortable. The victim is not guilty of causing the situation. The tyrannt intends your pain, and hopes you accept his bondage rather than the discomfort of resistance. The tyrannt needs your acceptance to enslave you. He holds that gun to your head, so it's easier for you to accept your enslavement.

When a bully punches you and asks for your wallet, is it easier to just give it to him, rather than resist? Or do you yell for help, run away, and only use violence to defend yourself if cornered?

When being raped, is it best to 'go along with it', because resistance could be misunderstood as violence, rather than defense?

When a marxist steals your economy and enslaves your children, is it best to 'go along with it', because resistance could be misunderstood as violence, rather than defense?

When a mobster comes to your business and asks for a 'donation' so nothing 'happens' to your business; do you give it to him? Or do you find a way to creatively remove him from your environment?

Violence would not be the preferred method (tyrannts are more prepared for violence than the average man), but the tyrannts create situations where violence is a necessary component of a 'vigorous immediate defense'. That choice has been characterized as 'Liberty or Death'.

Resistance is the answer. Violence would not be the preferred method (tyrannts are more prepared for violence than the average man), but it may of necessity be a component of resistance.

It serves the tyrannt to blur the distinction between 'vigorous immediate defense' and the violence of tyranny; because it ties the hands of good men, but does nothing to restrain the tyrannt, who still holds the gun to your head.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free."
-Ronald Reagan

"All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."
- Thomas Jefferson

"Men occasionally stumble over truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened."
- Winston Churchill

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”
- Albert Einstein

“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my children may have peace.”
– Thomas Paine

"We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed."
- Thomas Jefferson

"If you love wealth more than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, depart from us in peace. We ask not your counsel nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains rest lightly upon you and may posterity forget that you were ever our countrymen.”
— John Adams

OBloodyHell said...

> she said, “but many of them never do anything at all about it.”

Indeed, one of the qualities of Western civilization is that it does a spectacularly good job in making that hump non-trivial to get over. The biggest dangers are really heat-of-the-moment actions, both as an individual and as a group (i.e., a "mob").

Which is why the response to mob violence needs to be carefully measured. You want to deflate the anger of the mob, not enrage it and, by your acts, add to the rage in the bystanders. Fail, and the mob increases, and gets harder and harder to deflate, making revolution more and more inevitable.

OBloodyHell said...

> Is it violence when you must comply, or you will be fined? If you do not pay, you will be arrested. If you resist arrest, you will be killed. The violence is marxism. It is a gun pointed at your head.

Sofa, a large part of the violence you mention is "government", not marxism, and not "wrong in and of itself"

Governments have these powers no matter their form. In proper measure, they do have purpose. And if you think the FF's did not believe this, then you should go look up The Whiskey Rebellion

I am not saying this government hasn't overstepped its bounds, but the use of violence, or the threat of violence, in the pursuit of its goals is not inherently wrong, it is, in fact, one of the central qualities to government. We give it alone this power in order to limit the capacity of others to use violence to force its way.

I think the bounds holding the sheepdog have unleashed, and he's getting pretty close to turning feral, but he does have a reason for having those fangs. It's partly our own fault for letting him chew through the ropes.

Ian R Thorpe said...

When people feel powerless to influence the course of their own lives violence and civil unrest are the only ways they may make themselves heard.

I anticipate here in Britain the election due in a few weeks will show low votes for the three main parties with minor parties of the right (some of the extreme right) doing well.

After the economy the biggest concern of most votres is immigration but the three main parties are united in favouring continuation of the present lax policies and resulting high levels of immigration.

If the main parties are not willing to talk about the real issues they have no reason to complain when those who will address the issue do so in populist if politically incorrect ways.

Politicians must be reminded their job is to serve the people not to run our lives for us.

sofa said...

gw posts that "violence has no place in our democracy". (Oh ny the way, our form of governmnet is specifically NOT a democracy, it is a Repunlic.)

obloddyhell - agree with what you say: Force has a prominent role in our republic.

Violence founded the Republic, and violence maintains it. And I posit, that violence may be seen to retore it.

It is also violence when wealth is stolen, businesses are plundered, and you are pressed into slavery.

gw needs to brush up on history and re-think what has been happening. The violence is - You need to open your eyes.

sofa said...

Ian - Who works for whom?
Age old problem.
After a long train of abuses, when conditions become double-plus ungood, the prols find a way to reboot their leadership.