Month: August 2016

Rights and ethics regarding protests and force

I cannot recall if I have written anything about this previously. I intended to do so during the BLM protests which kept a mall from operating last year, as well as shutting down an airport. There are several topics to cover in relation to this, as well as in relation to the recent riots in Milwaukee.

First, I do not object, on an ethical level, to the use of force in politics. By ‘force’ I mean here quite broadly ‘physical coercion or the threat thereof.’ To paraphrase von Clausewitz slightly, ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means.’ However, to be ethically acceptable, the force involved should follow certain guidelines, which apply regardless of whether the group using force is a government, a protest movement, or a group of rebels or anything else.

  1. Force should only target the guilty parties and those who are using force to protect those guilty parties. In war, this would mean targeting the guilty government, together with those soldiers who are using force to protect that government.
  2. Collateral damage is almost always nearly inevitable, but reasonable precautions should be taken to avoid harm, including disruption, from coming to innocent parties.

Let us give some examples. I oppose the use of animals in laboratory tests. I would consider it perfectly ethical (which is a separate issue from legal of course) to take direct action to rescue animals from a lab. I would not consider it ethical to go block a road with a group of protestors, thus preventing random citizens from going about their business without actually affecting the laboratories in any substantial way. On the other hand I would consider it ethical to block a capital building. This would primarily be targeting the politicians responsible for passing laws to protect the animals while taking precautions that most ordinary citizens would remain unharmed. Of course, in a very indirect way, making it harder for the government to function might eventually inconvenience ordinary innocent bystanders, but this falls within the purview of the second point.

Similarly, in protesting the Keystone XL or some other pipeline, I would consider it potentially ethical to sabotage the work itself or take other direct action to block the building of it, but not to protest by blocking random roads or public areas. Note that this does not mean I object to protesting in public areas. The objection is only when such protests severely disrupt the ordinary business going on in those areas. Protesting on the sides of a parking lot and on the way leading into a mall is fine, as long as cars can get through and people can walk without being blocked; the moment people are blocked, it becomes unethical.

Should I be involved in a violent conflict, I would consider it ethical to block a road or building for tactical purposes, but only for such purposes. Blocking a road that would be of no use to the enemy anyway, thereby heavily inconveniencing innocent parties without targeting the enemy, would not be ethical.

On both counts, many protests aligned with movements such as BLM fail miserably.

Let us begin with the peaceful protests which shut down the mall and airport. First, although classified as peaceful, these protests exhibit a use of a certain kind of force; the protestors were physically blocking access to the mall and airport. Physically blocking is just as much preventing access as any other kind of force, so it must be considered a type of force.

Which brings us to the second point. Neither the protests nor the riots target the guilty parties or those physically protecting the guilty parties. Neither the mall nor the airport were responsible for the issues which the protestors were opposing. They were solely inconveniencing innocent bystanders.

I have been told, when I point this out to others, that ‘That is what you are supposed to feel with these protests that block roads and the like: helpless. The protestors have felt helpless, and they’re now making you share that feeling.’ But the fact that a person feels helpless and like the authorities will not listen does not justify violating the two rules given above. You do not have the right to make a third party feel helpless, just because you feel helpless. You have the right to make the authorities feel helpless by directly targeting them, but not to do this to third parties. Doing so is nothing more than hostage-taking, and the authorities should respond to it just as with hostage-taking: ‘do not negotiate with terrorists.’ It is not dissimilar to saying that if I am the victim of theft, I have the right to steal from a third party so they ‘feel what I feel.’ Whether or not person A has harmed you gives you no rights whatsoever to harm person B, though it may give you the right to harm person A.

To give another example: I would not necessarily find it unethical to ‘steal’ money from an overpaid CEO for screwing the rest of us over. But only from these overpaid executives. I would not necessarily think it unethical to take money from Donald Trump, but I would find it unethical to steal from the middle-class doctor down the road. Robin Hood, in other words, was only ethical insofar as he targeted solely those whose gains, while technically legal, were ill-gotten ethically. Had he stolen from random people, he would no longer have been ethical (note that he might have done this in some of his stories; the Robin Hood stories are quite varied).

In the case of the riots in Milwaukee, where protestors are running around screaming condemnations of white people (‘Fuck white people’) in general and even shooting an innocent 18 year old just for being white, in addition to looting from random stores and destroying random property, (Reporter Tim Pool pulls out of Milwaukee because of ‘racial tensions’ – Business Insider), the same applies, but even more strongly because of the increased use of force. Ironically, the leftist tendency to excuse this kind of behavior is itself rather racist, a ‘racism of low expectations.’

It should be noted that I do not consider the 1960’s ‘sit-ins’ of segregated bars and the like to violate the above principles, because in those instances, such protests targeted the bars that were engaged in the immoral behavior (segregation) directly, rather than targeting third parties. Similarly, Rosa Parks disrupting the bus is acceptable since the bus itself was engaged in the unethical discriminatory behavior. On the other hand I take issue with any marches done in the ’60’s which shut down whole streets and the like, for the reasons outlined above.

There is one other point I feel is relevant here: if you are going to use force, you have no right to expect the government not to crack down on you with force.

Why Trump is better than Clinton for a future liberal party

So, another Hillary supporter engaged with me today. There was nothing particularly special about this except for an article she linked, which argued that 3rd parties need to do more than focus on the presidency, and should focus on all levels of government. They said this about both the Green party and the Libertarian party, which is ironic, since Gov. Johnson was, well, a governor, so it would seem the Libertarians are already focused on other offices than the presidency. However, I do agree with the general point: if we want to see liberal politics succeed, we need to have not just a liberal president, but liberals in other levels of government as well.

Of course, the president is not just the head of the executive branch of the federal government. They are also a spokesperson, so even without any backing in congress or at the state level, having a real liberal as a president would be a great leap forward. It would also signal that we want real liberals in government. But the main point I want to talk about is this. Forget for a moment about the 2016 election of a real liberal, and assume that only Trump or Clinton have any hope to win. Which is preferable?

Well, on three points, I say Trump.

First, Trump will veto the TPP. Clinton will not, according to the people close to her. And her past actions do not give any confidence that she would keep her word. The examples of her flipping her support after the Clinton foundation gets a ‘donation’ are easy to find and hard to explain.

Second, Trump is less of a warmonger.

But third, for the future of a new liberal party, I believe Trump would be better to face in 2020 than Clinton.

Let us consider what would likely happen if Clinton wins in 2016, and runs against a GOP candidate and a Liberal candidate in 2020. Assuming this new Liberal candidate is from a party with substantial popular backing, there might be a number of republicans who decide to vote for the neoliberalism of Clinton, hoping to beat the more extreme liberal candidate. Democrats, with an incumbent, would mostly vote for Clinton again. In this scenario, the Liberal party would face a very difficult fight.

But what if Trump is president instead? In that case, democrats, having lost without the support of liberals in 2016, would likely split. Even if just 10 or 20% of them split to the Liberal party, that would be a great help. They would be forced to choose between risking another loss against the Republicans or compromising with the Liberals, rather as the Republicans were forced to compromise with the Tea Party.

Of course there are other possible scenarios, but I think that in general, liberal politics is better served by a Trump victory.

Deadpool and the Nietzschean virtues

I must state first that the first time I mentioned these ideas to someone, they thought I was joking. They told me I was a ‘troll.’ I tried to explain to them that I was serious, but they would not accept it.

So, to head off remarks to that effect, no, I am not joking. I am not trolling. This is absolutely serious. It is something I have thought for a while, but I have only now gotten around to writing it up. It is about the meaning of the Deadpool character. I find Deadpool one of the most meaningful characters in all of film, and one of the most admirable; perhaps the most worthy of emulation of any character in film.

Here, my focus is on Deadpool as seen in the Deadpool film. However, many of my remarks apply to Deadpool in the comics.

My main point is this: Deadpool exemplifies the principles which Nietzsche promoted.

  1. Deadpool has, in the words of Nietzsche, ‘discovered himself, giving himself his own good and evil.’
    He is ‘A bad guy (in the view of society) who gets paid to fuck up worse guys.’ But while he has chosen the career of a mercenary/hit man, he has certain principles. He won’t hurt people more than he thinks they deserve it. However, he refuses, from the start, to adapt to society’s views of good and evil. He is, from the start, a ‘bad person,’ in the view of ‘good society.’ But he does not care what society says about morality. He lives beyond good and evil, if we think of good and evil as societal concepts. While we may not always think that his moral values are our moral values, we should emulate his disregard for society’s opinions, and his strength of will to give himself his own values. I am not saying we ought to take on Deadpool’s values, but we should take on his willingness to give himself his own values, rather than living according to society’s notions of good and evil.
  2. Deadpool constantly says ‘yes’ to life.
    No matter what happens, Deadpool is cheerful. Yes, he gets angry, but he never loses a sense of humor about life. Is this not one of Nietzsche’s virtues? More relevantly to us, is this not a desirable trait? To both ‘mix every chance in his pot,’ while also dancing and laughing away over it?
  3. Deadpool does not maintain his cheerfulness by simply being ‘zen,’ but rather, he struggles for his goals.
    Okay, one way to be ‘cheerful’ in a sense is to be zen: to try to avoid any kind of emotional reaction, to try to suppress our desires. Buddha said that ‘life is suffering; the cause of suffering is desire.’ But Deadpool is filled with desires. He fights for his desires with ‘maximum effort.’
    However, and this is a key point: Deadpool does not allow setbacks and failures to substantially upset him. Has his maximum effort failed? He laughs it off and plans how he can succeed next time. Has something else gone against him? He still maintains a sense of humor and continues to make jokes.

Deadpool does not simply live through life. He flies over life. He fights, incredibly hard, for his goals, but whenever he encounters something, he takes it with humour and dances over it. There are no chances in life that he cannot take on and redeem (in the sense of redemption that Nietzsche gives in Also Sprach Zarathustra: taking them and fitting them into your own plan for the future). And he does it with a laugh. Yet throughout this he does not give up on his goals.

There are some failings which Deadpool has, of course. While he enjoys himself, he does not seem to contribute substantially to humanity’s scientific or cultural achievements. On the plus side, he seeks to make himself be as great as he can be, but on the downside, he does not include making lasting contributions in his idea of greatness. And yet, everything else about him makes him an exemplar of Nietzsche’s virtues.

Let us take on Deadpool’s virtues. Let us reject any notion of society’s good and evil, and give ourselves our own. Let us always strive for our goals with ‘maximum effort.’ Even when maximum effort means enduring terrible pain, be it physical or mental. Yet let u s try to have deeper goals than Deadpool had. Let us strive to improve the state of humanity, either scientifically, culturally, or both.

GOP racism makes the Democrats more conservative

Perhaps the topic of this post is obvious to some people, but it is something I only realized rather recently. Here is the background.

Some months ago I read an article about why southern black voters tended to prefer Clinton over Bernie. Granted, this does not apply to the young generation of black voters, but it is true overall that southern black voters formed one of the more Clinton-centric voting demographics. This article suggested that a big part of the reason for this was that many southern blacks are religious and socially conservative, and went so far as to say that many of them would probably be Republicans, except that they feel the GOP is racist.

I don’t know how accurate this assessment is. I think it probably carries some truth, but it may not be the whole story. I think another reason for Sanders’ lack of popularity among certain minority groups was that unlike many liberals, he refused to pander or to single them out, preferring to focus on the fact that in many cases, the problems faced by minorities are the result of economic problems. (Yes, I realize that economic issues don’t cover things like unequal treatment by police, but that is only ONE issue).

However, regardless of whether this is an explanation for the lack of support for Sanders among southern blacks, it occurs to me that it is one of the factors which has led to the Democratic Party moving to the right.

Consider the following: for the past several decades, the Democrats have been viewed as by far the more pro-minority party. While many Republicans are not racist against minorities, people who are racist against minorities do tend to go to the Republican party, and in any case the public perception is that the Democrats do more for minorities. (I specify ‘racist against minorities’ here because Democrats do sometimes support racism against whites – for example, affirmative action; see my blogs on the University of Texas SCOTUS case for further discussion).

Now consider an ordinary voter picking a party. There are several cases where this single fact could make someone who otherwise fits the Republican party better decide to choose the Democrats. Perhaps they are a minority, and think the Republicans are too racist, so while they support GOP social and economic policy, they go Democrat anyway. Or perhaps they are not a minority, but due to being decent human beings, they dislike the perceived racism in the Republicans, and choose to go Democrat.

In fact, this is not just restricted to racism. The GOP opposition to abortion and gay marriage are other issues that could make an otherwise conservative person decide to go with the Democrats.

The unfortunate side effect of all this is that the Democrats end up with a contingent which does not share liberal positions on the economy, the environment, or almost any other issue. Their presence in the party is solely the result of a ‘I’m not racist/anti-choice/anti gay marriage.’ Predictably, this means they will vote for candidates who are essentially Republicans except for a few social issues. And that is precisely what we have seen recently.

I do not think this is the sole cause of the Democrats moving to the right. There are other complicated factors going on here. However, this is one factor which should be taken into consideration when thinking about the direction of the Democratic party.