Winding yourself up until you’re turning blue… In praise of violence (don’t do violence)

Anyway, because s 80.2B of the Criminal Code is real, I am definitely not advocating violence.  Violence should never be advocated because we are a tolerant liberal society and tolerant liberal societies make it an offence to advocate violence.  Don’t do it.  I’m certainly not doing it.

But what is violence?  I thought about nerding out on this question but, really, I just want to talk about one thing.  One horrible thing.  One unforgivable thing.

Glitter bombing.

Let me set the scene.  Andrew Bolt is a racist (but not a ‘convicted racist’) and he has horrible, terrible opinions.  He should be censored.  It is an indictment on our media laws that his vicious, antisocial opinions are allowed to be broadcast.

And I don’t say this as a raving lefty, but as a conservative who thinks we should be defending the social good.

So a few people thought it would be funny to throw glitter at him.  Glitter is the worst thing ever invented.  It gets everywhere.  My housemate is in a lot of bands that seem to involve glitter and glitter gets freaking everywhere.  Glitter should be restricted by law.

Even then, I think Andrew Bolt had it coming.  He shouldn’t be able to see daylight without worrying that somebody will throw glitter at him.

But journalists — that scourge upon humanity, that diseaséd race of insufferables — disagree.  Fairfax thought Bolt was being subjected to ‘sheer violence’.  ABC’s Patricia Karvelas said that this ‘attack’ was ‘outrageous’, and that we should have ‘zero tolerance to violence’.  News Corp’s Rita Pahahi thought this was an example of ‘Leftist fascists’ being ‘thugs’.

We can distinguish some of these responses.  In the first instance, there are those who are openly congratulating Andrew Bolt for punching the glitter bombers.  This tends to indicate purely partisan sentiment, because if violence is always wrong and demands ‘zero tolerance’, then we should deplore the person who disproportionately uses physical violence in response to having glitter thrown at him.

But other instances are more difficult to analyse.  There are those who seem to believe quite sincerely that having glitter thrown at you is a violent act.  Bolt himself seemed to think that this was a campaign of intimidation.  It is really difficult to take this suggestion seriously.  Bolt himself praised as mere satire the musing in Quadrant that the ABC should have been bombed instead of Manchester.  It was grotesque and vile, but he has somehow separated that sort of intimidation from the throwing of harmless (but incredibly annoying and grotesque) glitter.

On some level, I have wondered if mainstream conservatives simply do not know what they are doing.  When they have their views broadcast in the media, they exercise exceptional social power.  They have far more capacity to inflict harm than the vast majority of people in the community.  But perhaps the psychic self-image demands that they remain blind to this fact because they couldn’t justify writing things as contrarian outrage-bait if they had to accept responsibility for the repercussions.  If you fully understood the consequences of what you were doing, would you publish the hateful nonsense that Bolt et alia write?

And thus they resort to the usual arguments about the harmlessness of words.  Words are not violent because people are responsible for their own emotional reactions.  They’re not violent because only physical violence is violence.  They’re not violent because they are only words.  We have writers who radically underestimate the power and vitality of words.

It is the same intuition that treats mental illness as not really illness.  It’s in the head.  It’s just emotions.  You can pull yourself together.

By throwing glitter, the ‘anti-fascists’ are trying to silence conservatives.  Somehow, this is entirely different to the bullying campaigns that News Corp routinely entertains when somebody (usually a minority) has a controversial opinion and happens to express this somewhere that others can hear.

As a conservative who really hates glitter, I don’t feel particularly threatened by the idea of anti-fascists throwing glitter at me.  I really don’t understand this rhetoric, except as an attempt to present conservatives as a victim of modern society.

And then there are those who seem to think that the throwing of glitter is an illegitimate act because we should only use tools of reasoned dialogue to engage with adversaries.  Again, these people tend to be journalists who seem pathologically incapable of perceiving the power balances between those who have a national platform and those who are marginalised.

This gets me closer to the core of the real argument: what are the limits of violence in democratic society?  Without advocating violence, it should be possible to interrogate the question of how the privileging of a certain kind of social interaction (dialogue-based) is going to privilege a certain group in society (those who can access platforms for dialogue-based debate).

We can (and should) frame this a different way.  As a straight, white, economically-stable conservative, I can hurt practically everybody else in society with my words more than they can hurt me.  Writing ‘No Dogs and No Jews’ on my shop window hurts Jews more than ‘No Whites In My Safe Space’ or ‘Women-Only Screening of Wonder Woman‘ can hurt me.  There is a massive disparity in social power.

People with immediate and (practically) unfiltered access to the media are very difficult to harm in the same way that they can harm the rest of us.  We’ve seen this time and time again as news outlets have sought to destroy whichever poor bastard happened to stick their head up to express an opinion.

By rendering violence — even non-violence like throwing glitter — illegitimate, we force people to play a game that they have no hope of winning.

That’s why we should not allow media-types to recast glitter bombing as an act of violence.  It’s why we should watch the video of Andrew Bolt and see only the ease with which he himself resorts to violence at the merest of slights.  Throw some glitter at him and he loses control of the impotent rage which boils within him.

If you lose glitter bombing, how soon will it before picket lines are a thuggish act of violence?  How soon will it before any kind of social disruption is intolerable, anti-liberal violence?  How soon will it be before concealing your identity in public is considered a constant threat of violence?  How soon will it be that simply refusing to participate in society will be considered the worst kinds of violence?

Violence has to mean something.  And I’m not advocating it.


Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based blogger and policy wonk who writes about conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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