Saturday, 19 August 2017

Be Principled Without Being a Sucker

I’m still pretty sick over Charlottesville, and right now there’s a lot of argument about the principle of free speech as it applies to white supremacists.

The “Unite the Right” rally was initially moved from downtown Emancipation Park to a larger park outside of downtown for safety reasons, but the ACLU challenged that. On free speech grounds, they made sure that the rally went on as planned. If it had been a peaceful rally, that might have been fine.  But the intent was never a peaceful rally. The heavily armed white supremacist groups surrounded a church, trapping people inside.  They stalked and harassed people. They beat them with pipes, attacked them with torches, and ran over them with a car. Richard Spencer described the rally as “a huge moral victory in terms of the show of force.”

Essentially, a violent white supremacist group conned the ACLU into supporting them with talk of free speech and peaceful assembly. My understanding is that between organizers making violent threats and public discussion of plans to come heavily armed, this should have been apparent to the ACLU. But whether it was or wasn’t, Nazis and the KKK did a bang-up job of using the banner of “free speech” to threaten and assault a lot more people than they would have if their rally had been in the alternate park, which wasn’t in downtown.

The ACLU initially claimed that it was in no way responsible for the violence, but later stated that it would start looking more closely at rallies asking for ACLU support and would not represent protesters who want to carry firearms. This seems pretty reasonable to me. The First Amendment includes a right “to peaceably assemble,” not “to show up better armed than the local police and beat the shit out of counterprotesters.”

It also seems to me to be an indicator of a lot of larger problems. One that’s been discussed a lot is the way Donald Trump is supporting and encouraging racism, but the larger problem I want to talk about is more abstract.  It’s basically this: No principle, no matter how noble, is immune to being abused by manipulative people. Abusers and manipulators of all stripes, from a controlling partner to someone who doesn’t want to pull their weight at work or school to literal Nazis and Klansmen who want to literally murder every Black or Jewish person in the country, are all really good at taking good things and twisting them.

To me, this means two things. First, the fact that something can be abused can’t make it bad, because *everything* can be abused. Secondly, having good principles doesn’t absolve you from being smart and savvy about how you adhere to those principles. If, for example, you work for the ACLU and are asked to defend a rally, do your best to find out whether these are people who want to peacefully express their ideas (good, bad, or genocidal) or a heavily armed mob intent on violence.

Or, to put it in D&D alignment terms, because I’m a geek like that, it’s not enough to just be lawful. Evil people will get your support for their evil by appealing to your lawful principles. If you want to be lawful good or even lawful neutral, you need to think really critically about the motivations of people who are trying to appeal to your principles.




via Kelly Thinks Too Much http://ift.tt/2v2IIXm