• Should We Really Resort to Non-Violence?

    Popular atheist non-religious blogger Dan Arel is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author, and host of his own podcast:


    Dan seems like a nice enough fellow, and much of the time his writing is insightful and entertaining.

    Lately, though, he has been going on a bit of a tear in defense of violent vigilantism against certain kinds of (admittedly horrible) people:




    Dan’s argument is essentially that a handful of people have been organizing in support of ethnic cleansing and therefore—no matter how poorly subscribed and powerless their organization might be—it is never too soon for us to start using non-judicial interpersonal violence against them. Some speech is so harmful per se that it must be met with violence, so as to intimidate and peremptorily silence the sort of people who promote said speech.

    Dan is not alone. More than a few antifascist activists have similarly justified vigilantism against white supremacist speech. In more ancient times, devout Jews sanctioned homicide against those who spoke out in favor of apostasy from Judaism. More recently, Martin Luther advocated genocide of medieval Jews who dared to openly profess their Judaism. Catholic Inquisitors were happy to torture and kill those who committed the crime of heresy, just as ISIS does today. History is replete with examples of those who thought violence was a perfectly appropriate response to words which they considered too dangerous to be permitted.

    Perhaps this parade of horribles is too much, though. It is possible that Dan Arel has struck upon the one instance in which it is demonstrably moral to unleash mob violence for the sake of truly praiseworthy ends. Maybe the general moral imperative to meet words with words and violence with violence (and to carefully distinguish between the two categories of human behavior) is fine for young children, but sophisticated thinkers can say precisely when it is time to put such childishness aside in favor of throwing punches.

    Or, perhaps, Dan is woefully wrong. Perhaps there are no actual historical examples of vigilantism saving some political polity or body of people from themselves.  Perhaps Nazism–and other forms of totalitarianism–have failed to flourish in western liberal democracies where free speech was cherished as a fundamental value, while thriving in places where social order breaks down and speech is routinely met with violence.

    The solution to this problem is left as an exercise for the reader.

    Category: Ethics

    Article by: Damion Reinhardt

    Former fundie finds freethought fairly fab.