Moral high ground and other thoughts

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The cure for a fallacious argument is a better argument, not the suppression of ideas.

Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World, 1996

It is also not attacking someone presenting fallacious ideas. It is not punching a Nazi.

There is a nearly infinite number of things, of current events that one could try to break down and discuss. The Muslim ban, alternative facts, Sally Yates, and whatever else is going on at the moment. A slight sense of dread rises every morning as I check the Guardian newsletter on my email. At least one of the headlines is always about Trump – and it’s never good. If it wasn’t crystal clear before, it sure is now, that his appointment has had and will continue to have global consequences to the lives of already disenfranchised people.

The reinstatement of the so called “global gag rule” takes away family planning resources from vulnerable women in economically unstable areas across the globe. US government dollars will no longer support family planning programs if those programs mention abortion as an option for their clients. The “pro-life” movement has always been a disgusting hate group in my eyes since they unambiguously value an unborn, unconscious, barely sentient foetus more highly than its actual living mother who may simply have been unlucky with contraception, or you know, raped. There are pregnancies that become life-threatening for the mother, and there are situations where the child is unwanted for other reasons. To force a woman to carry a child against her will is a vile act of oppression. And it’s not like making abortions inaccessible or even illegal will stop them – it will only make them more dangerous.

This was not supposed to be an abortion rant.

Let’s get back to punching Nazis.

Richard Spencer who is a nefarious and vile piece of human garbage, and an outspoken ethnic cleansing advocate, got smacked in the face during a TV interview after Trump’s inauguration. And the Internet loved it. Apparently that was the second time his face took a battering that day. I can’t say that I feel sorry for him as he really is as much of a Nazi as a human being can possibly be.

However, at a time when a nation that once represented the good guys, and rode the wave of freedom and democracy, is now being lead by a narcissistic orange 2-year-old, those of us on the side of universal human rights, religious freedom and free speech have to preserve the moral high-ground. It’s frustrating, I know.

As an isolated incident this isn’t interesting in any way. People get punched for saying disagreeable things all the time. Many European countries condemn the kind of hate speech that routinely pours out of Richard Spencer’s mouth, and perhaps that’s why it is easy to think that he got what he deserved. And honestly, if anyone deserves a beating for stupid shit they say, it is Richard Spencer.

But.

In the wake of the Trump presidency where facts are challenged by “alternative facts” issued by none other than the White House, and an Attorney General gets fired for following the constitution rather than the unrestrained temper tantrums of the President, the pillars of democracy have to stand their ground. One of those pillars is the criminal justice system whereby individuals are punished by the institution after they have been found guilty by the proper process – not by street vigilantism.

We must remember that in their eyes those abortion clinic burning dipshits (official term, trust me) think they are doing the right thing just as much as we think we are doing the right thing when we assault a Nazi. This is why civil societies have law enforcement that takes care of stopping and punishing for criminal acts. Needless to say that it is nowhere near a perfect system but if the alternative is that each person acts as a judge and deals justice as they see fit I will happily take the first option.

If we commend random beatings of well-known Nazis on the street, we are unwittingly commending suppression of any speech by violence. As a liberal, feeling victimised by the rise of the far right and the likes of Donald Trump, it is easy to feel entitled to going rogue and taking down the bad guys that have sneaked into our governments. But if we do that, then we are no better than our opponents. In a free society, all opinions can be voiced. It doesn’t mean that they are all equally valid, but a society based on principles of the enlightenment and democracy can withstand a multitude of voices without turning to censorship and propaganda.

Violence is but a short-term solution to silence harmful and discriminatory speech, and the better and only way to counteract it is speaking up against it. Debating and arguing with our antagonists lacks the excitement and sense of power that simply breaking their noses and as many teeth as possible provides, but it is the only viable way forward. Violence breeds martyrs, and martyrs can be powerful.

I could go round and round this topic for hours, but I just want to say this.
It is more important than ever, for those of us who oppose totalitarianism, austerity and theocracy; injustice and bigotry, to stand our ground and not let ourselves be dragged back centuries. We must not give in to our lizard brains’ impulses to simply rip our enemies to shreds, but to speak up and do our very best to spread factual information and promote equality.

Women’s March in London gave me a sliver of hope where I didn’t see it before. About 100 000 people gathered in London to display solidarity for women in America, and to show our own government that we are serious. As cheesy as this kind of talk sounds, I believe that bringing hope to people’s lives in any shape or form is invaluable. Millions of people across all continents came together to peacefully protest the values of those in power. If nothing else, it created a sense of unity. Things like this don’t necessarily effect immediate change in the world but they do have value for they prove to each of us that we are not alone, and that we are not mindless slaves merely following the whims of those in power. We can make a change, and we ought not to let ourselves be silenced.

Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. The grave will supply plenty of time for silence.

Christopher Hitchens

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