Richard Spencer, an outspoken “alt-right” activist and white nationalist who has cheered on the rise of Donald Trump, was punched in the face Friday, during an ABC interview, by a hooded Inauguration Day protester in Washington, D.C. The attack was caught on video, and promptly went viral on social media. There were many online discussions about whether the violence was justified, with Spencer being widely categorized as a Nazi. The majority view appeared to endorse the sucker punch.
Episodes like this make me simultaneously feel that what I do is important, since the level of ethical literacy in the general U.S. population seems to be at a rudimentary level at best, and make me want to quit and become a paleontologist. Of course it’s wrong to attack someone physically because of his words and opinions. It doesn’t matter what they are. That is so unethical it makes my teeth hurt, and defending it is proof that you need to go live in cave.
I’d love to see a poll on the topic, but I’m afraid the results would send me into serious depression. I’m also afraid the poll would show that Democrats and progressives favor face-punching Nazis with alarming self-righteousness, making ever more tenuous my respect for any Democrat, in the midst of the party’s embarrassing conduct since the election, who doesn’t wear a flour sack over his or her head in public and constantly mutter, “I’m sorry! I’m so, so sorry…”
I know that there are people in this country like those who used to appear on The Jerry Springer Show, whose only response to conflict is to start swinging. I assumed, however, that nobody who could name the President during the Civil War, spell “cheese” and knows where babies come from thinks that it is acceptable to walk up to someone on the sidewalk and cold cock him because his opinions are offensive. Silly me. I also assumed that there was no accepted list of punch-worthy positions, but I guess there is.
Who makes that list? Isn’t it obvious that if Richard Spencer’s white supremacy views are on the list, your views or mine could be on it tomorrow? Is this whole freedom of expression thing that hard to understand?
Enough people were prompted by Spencer’s fate to explicate their ethics ignorance that Popehat’s Ken White felt that he had to write a rather long essay explaining what’s wrong with punching neo-Nazis. He has more patience than I do, and apparently more time, but as usual, Ken does a fine job. (At Reason, Robby Souve is considerably more succinct: “Don’t fight fascism by acting like a fascist.”) Do read Ken’s piece if you don’t think you could write one yourself, but if you couldn’t, that makes me feel sad and useless. If you agree with the puncher, however, by all means try to make your case at Ethics Alarms so I can write, “What the hell is the matter with you?”
I promise I won’t punch YOU in the face. But I will be tempted. It is an unethical, dangerous, really stupid opinion to have.