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  • Writer's pictureDave Stanley

English 876: Week 10-The Bullet or the Ballot

Discussion Question: This past week we looked at the legacy of slavery and colonialism in the USA, and reflected on its continued impact on contemporary society as well as ongoing struggles to resist. Malcolm X’s famous dichotomy, the “bullet or the ballot” succinctly sums up two threads of thought regarding such resistance: peaceful, nonviolent civil disobedience or violent confrontation. Of course, such binaries are rarely simple, though nonviolence is immediately dichotomized by any violent act. Yet we also might look at conditions and contexts of nonviolence as well as the complexity of violence. Gene Sharp, while in the tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi and MLK, champions nonviolence specifically on terms of efficacy, avoiding the moral judgement that often accompanies such a stance. Malcolm X seems entirely pragmatic as well in his many famous calls to arms regarding Black Liberation. Reflect on these issues, possibly through an action or event that you are familiar with and has resonance for you either directly or through media representation, and grapple with the issues of ethics and efficacy in terms of the struggle for justice within embedded systems of oppression, which are often, implicitly or explicitly, violent.


This question in particular is one that I consider constantly. I think I want to focus on a particular aspect of the current political climate: should we punch Nazis? Spawning from the now infamous punch to the face of Richard Spencer, a white supremacist, internet troll, actual Neo-Nazi, and all around disgusting human-being, the question seems to be: do we morally degrade when we use violence against fascists? The position that assumes this is true makes several presuppositions. First, that violence is only a tool used by the evil, unmoral, unjust peoples of the world, and second that to use violence, even in pragmatic defense of the defenseless, is the act of a, at worst fascist, and at best unmoral person. Many individuals who dislike this violence preach a strategy of efficacy through negotiation and understanding. I can personally understand the appeal here, as I do not want, as a subject, to have violence acted upon me, nor do I wish to be unheard and treated as anyone enemy. The difference is that I have not willing adopted a political and social view that is predicated on the extermination of entire groups of other human beings.

I feel strongly that no matter how I dislike violence otherwise, the only way to negotiate with a position so firmly outside the bearings of sanity, whose very existence is predicated on genocide and ethnic cleansing, is through violence. It does not seem to be possible to address the underlying concerns that give rise to these views, since so often they are born of a choice rather than some "myth" of economic or other anxiety as we have seen repeated throughout history. When we do not fight, these fascists seem only to gain power and opportunity in our tolerance for their speech.

And yet, did I not just advocate for their destruction? This plagues me. How can we do what is needed, and FIGHT those who would destroy without becoming destroyers ourselves? I turn to the metaphysical, and hope beyond hope that acting on the behalf of everyone, of the largest possible cross section of people, of all races, creeds, and identities creates the most good, and that turning my fists upon the enemy's of that must in some way be good. Given that our government, police, and military have been so thoroughly corrupted perhaps we need to start over. How do we do this?

I recognize that this post has been more difficult and rambling than usual, but this is a problem that tears at the very deepest part of me as a person.

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