While I usually find Facebook debates exhausting and unuseful, I was in the middle of one recently that actually clarified things for me. (All names have been fictionalized. Except for mine, because…)
George posted this article from The Atlantic, Left-Wing Protests Are Crossing the Line. “Protesters harassing prominent conservatives in their private lives fall short of the standards of civil disobedience.”
I agreed with Bethany who noted, “Torches at the front door are NOT the best or most civilized answer. One must use discernment and perspective along with the idealism and righteous anger.” I added, “WE need to be BETTER than they are.”
The pushback began.
Doug: So when an individual uses their professional position to target the well being of other individuals, other individuals admonishing and harassing them as individuals for their actions is inappropriate?
Got it. They can use their pulpit to attack other’s private lives, but once they step off, they’re in the ‘safe zone.’
Noel: We’re dealing with people who don’t care about any of that, though. They want power and supremacy, and they’re willing to hurt real people to attain that goal. Kindness and passiveness are wasted on them.
Doug: I have LGBTQ friends and family, and anyone whose stated purpose is to remove their rights or their personhood entirely is no friend of mine.
Atlantic: The people who scream at Tucker Carlson or Kirstjen Nielsen or Ted Cruz have good reason to be angry. The president of the United States is a bigot. He spreads conspiracy theories; he treats the rule of law with contempt.
[Yet] protests like these, that target people’s private lives, are wrong. They violate fundamental principles of civil disobedience, as understood by its most eminent practitioners and theorists. And they threaten the very norms of human decency that Trump and his supporters have done so much to erode.
Margaret: I identify with Doug’s feeling that someone professionally engaged in causing or fostering harm shouldn’t feel ‘entitled’ to insulate him or herself from confrontation. I must agree with Noel that kindness and consideration is wasted on @$$#0!3$, but also take Roger’s warning that we risk coming off as ‘just as bad’. All this stuff is true.
Atlantic: Whatever the merits of the causes they promote, they are embracing methods that are deeply corrosive. It matters how activists oppose a government. When they prevail, the approaches they embraced in opposition to power deeply shape how they exercise it.
The problem [with those protests] is that they are not sufficiently ‘public’ and ‘conscientious.’ By public, Rawls meant that civil disobedience is a form of political argument. Normal criminals try to break the law without anyone knowing about it. People who commit civil disobedience, by contrast, publicize their infractions to dramatize the injustice they seek to change.
For civil-rights activists… the point was to demand service openly, accept arrest, and thus communicate with the public. In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” In so doing, they “arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice.”
Bethany: It’s the minefield we must cross. We’ve already seen how confrontations… have been quickly turned against us by our privileged adversaries. We need to win the crowd! We need to invite people to join us, not disgust them or scare them away. We need to cling to honor and exhibit discipline — and show some righteous self-control while bravely confronting forces that could literally destroy the planet — or at least, democracy.
[Each] extreme seeks to achieve rule by intimidation. It becomes autocracy by means of bullying and intimidation. Essentially it comes down to ‘we want your vote, but we have no interest in your (closer to the center) ideas.’ No wonder we are so polarized and dysfunctional. There is no dialogue, tolerance, listening.