Not All Violence Is Equal
“I’m against all violence!”
These four words have been almost a mantra from the embarrassed members of America’s right wing trying to salvage some semblance of the former dignity to which their party aspired to the fervent faux centrists desperately trying to grasp hold of a middle ground between left-wing protests and the right-wing attempted insurrection at the capital.
In 508 BC, Athens was invaded by a Spartan army in an attempt to stop them from shifting into a democracy. The Athens rose up, blocking the Spartans in the Acropolis and laying siege until they were willing to leave peacefully. This sparked the beginning of Democracy as a wildfire, spreading across nations and becoming something to aspire to.
From 73–71 BC, Spartacus led a slave rebellion to free his people. Most would agree that this is a worthy, but the end result was to instill enough fear to make the Romans long for a more certain Dictatorship over the Republic it had become.
In 44 BC, the Roman Senate joined together and assassinated Julius Caesar, creating a power vacuum that would eventually lead to the fall of the Roman Republic.
Throughout human history, we can find examples of violent protests and uprisings that forever changed the world. Some, of course, were for the better, while others were not. The only commonality is that, with only few exceptions, violence was used as a catalyst for major change. When people scream that violence doesn’t change anything, those who study history know that it’s rally the only thing that ever has.
From a historical perspective, this isn’t good or bad. It’s simply the cycle of the world to date. One thing I can say, however, is that none of those historical events should be praised or decried purely based on whether violence was used. They can all be seen at good, bad, or indifferent on the merit of the causes and changes that they moved forward.
Violent uprisings against tyrannical governments, such as The French Revolution, have moved society forward, whereas dictators have come into power and oppressed their people with barely a whisper and not a single punch thrown.
Humans being humans, it’s not hard to see the parallels to ancient Rome in a America today, from the modern coliseum-like public spectacles that we call entertainment to the stark dynamic between those seeking a more equitable society and those with such deep fears or change and uncertainty that they run into the arms of authoritarian rule.
And this brings us to current events. We have a dynamic in our society right now of two acts involving violence that have served as a catalyst for change, though the scope of that is hard to determine yet.
The first is Black Lives Matters. Their protests have been, by and large, peaceful. There have been isolated incidents of violence, often perpetrated by those opposing the movement, but they are, nevertheless, held up by this faux centrist ideology as left-wing violence in protest.
These are people fighting for their lives. They are protesting the wholesale murder of black people in America by an increasingly militarized police force and an apathetic, if not outright hostile, national leadership.
Since this movement has emerged, so many people across the political spectrum, typically white and middle-class people, have treated it as more of a thought experiment than an urgent problem costing real lives. That’s why it should come as no surprise that there are people out there who are tired of waiting for you to get on board, so they go ahead and punch a Nazi.
After all, decisions are made by those who show up.
The second is the QAnon conspiracy-fueled fervor of the far right-wing whose ideology is firmly rooted in fear. They fear immigrants, socialism, intellectualism, and more, all typically built upon misinformation both by happenstance and by design.
They violently attacked our Congress in an attempt to overturn a democratically elected government in order to keep an authoritarian figure in power.
They didn’t do this because they were getting killed in the streets. They did this because they didn’t get their way, and their ideology is an ever-receding portion of the population, which scares them.
Something to keep in mind is that real change, the kind that moves society forward, takes sacrifice and work. Major societal shifts are painful, and often hurt the most vulnerable in our society the worst.
Blind, unquestioning obedience to a single monolithic figure is easy. It’s comfortable, so long as you aren’t that figure’s target.
Both of these things are often precipitated by violence protest, revolution, or revolt.
Clearly, not all violence is equal.