Why The Violence from the Left Scares Me

I feel unsafe.

It’s ironic because I’ve been living in South Berkley for most of the summer. It’s a beautiful collection of neighborhoods which feel extremely safe.

There’s a diverse collection of residents, students, families, artists, activists and cauldron of everyday people that make up the world.

It’s far enough from the Berkley campus to not feel “college” but it also feels far removed from the realities of the world. It’s so comfortable the “liberal Berkley bubble” as I call it, has me heading south for a new adventure in a few days.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in Berkley. It’s been nurturing, inspiring, and personally challenging, but overall really enjoyable.

There’s one part of the experience I found troubling.

Exploring Activist Enclaves

Last month I attended a dinner party and documentary screening of The Salmon Will Run. The documentary is a heart-felt, spiritual rally cry for earth protectors to stand up against the imperialist oppressors who took the US from native people and did things like create dams which disrupted the natural habitat.

Now I love an underdog story, and yes, I tend to side with the earth-protecting, anti-corporate greed folks 9 times out of 10. However, I also understand many of the things I use (and take for granted) on a daily basis are the result of millions of human hours of work and sacrifice.

I try and take an honest look at our past and pay homage to the good and bad parts of what came before us, in order to create a more just future.

I’m not here to deny or debate the serious issues facing our society; class warfare, expanding wealth inequality, global warming, or the corporate takeover of our government.

But what’s beginning to scare me is the left’s response.

Here’s a little example.

The mini-documentary (more non-fiction film, less documentary I’d say) didn’t discuss any nuance or detail about how our water systems were developed, why, or what options were on the table to make a more sustainable change.

I don’t recall a single scientist, environmentalist or historian being interviewed to offer any perspective, the movie was almost entirely focussed on the emotional and spiritual story for the victims. The room full of people that watched the movie all praised it afterwards in unison.

The film was touching, but I wanted to bring up my concerns about the lack of scientific analysis during our discussion after the film. I hesitated to speak up to a new group of people I had just met. It didn’t feel safe to share the somewhat contrarian view, especially as everyone else went around pop-corn style sharing their affirmations and the film’s praise.

One of the men in the room even said that during the film when he saw an image of a large dam he fantasized it blowing up and imagined us all righteously cheering in the downfall of the evil water controllers.

Everyone seemed to smile and nod affirmatively.

There’s a chance this man knows 10x more than me or the average person about dams, the California waterways and how to solve the issues the state faces as we deal with a changing climate. But somehow I don’t believe that was his area of expertise that he’d settle for commenting about a fantasy of a destruction for a large dam.

I personally know very little about how the water systems work in California, but recently I read that California’s dams are dangerously outdated and on the brink of collapse. According to the journalist, that is a recipe for disaster.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on this guy’s fantasy.

We all have crazy fantasies, but the shooting of a Republican congressperson in June may have come from a similar fanatical, self-righteous sate of frenzied rebellion.

The liberals are supposed to be the one’s supporting peace and science to understand the humanity in everyone and move forward collectively with people’s shared best interest in mind.

That used to be my take at least.

Combating Nazi’s With Violence — duh.. right?

“Yeah, well, he’s probably going to be over there beating up Nazis tomorrow.”

The young woman stated it with such casualness, it struck me as problematic. The normalization of, or social acceptability of violence triggered me, especially since it came out of the mouth of someone who is typically so nurturing and mindful with her words.

None of the other people she said this to spoke up, including myself, to call out the acceptance of using violence against other people.

Later that week I met a leftist activist friend who stood firm in his support of violent opposition against hate groups, as long as they were threatening marginalized groups with violent language and/or violence of their own.

I disagreed with his tactics because I think they are morally problematic (this leads into a really nuanced debate on what is violence and when it is and isn’t acceptable) but more importantly, strategically ineffective.

I’ll do my best to re-tell his perspective below for context.

Stoping Nazi’s By Any Means Necessary

If “these groups” are left unchecked, they will spread hateful rhetoric, gather numbers and will assault, terrorize and/or murder gays, minorities and other marginalized groups. He believes these people are growing in numbers, are dangerous and are out for blood.

Therefor the only way to stop them is to beat them down like we did in the 1930’s.

I felt like he was playing up the threat of violence in a perfect reflection of what the right has done in our country about the threat of muslims being terrorists. However the chilling images from Charlottesville made me think twice.

I remember being arrested in college for watching someone light a paper cup on fire in the middle of a clear sidewalk, how the hell weren’t groups of people beating people with flaming torches stopped with police intervention? White privilege? Yeah, youcan say that again.

My friend believed the police cannot be relied on to protect us because they are also a white supremacist organization. There have been laws passed that allow cars to run down protestors that block roads, and a young woman was murdered with a car in a similar fashion. The structures of power are conspiring to render dissent meaningless, therefore the antifa are sacrificial heroes putting their bodies in harms way and doing battle, so people like him and I (that don’t want to personally fight) don’t have to.

I haven’t seen data that suggest when [insert white nationalist group name here] groups gather supporters and momentums with rallies.

Is there a spike in crimes committed by white men against a minority group shortly before and after these rallies? These despicable acts may happen, but I also haven’t seen studies of their increase after a successful rally, or decrease after an unsuccessful rally.

I suppose there isn’t such data available.

My concern is that when he condones violence actions against these groups he and others on the left are dehumanizing the other side.

I see this “dehumanization of the other” as a reflection of the lefts own shadow, which they project onto other groups and to then fight against it.

And I’m not saying the far right or alt-right are perfect standards of humanity, far from it. However I do believe these two things are true.

1. Many of these men are in desperate need of love, attention and acknowledgement. Some of them might be violent, murderous thugs, but there are violent, murderous thugs in a lot of different fringe groups. I’d suspect a lot of them are desperate to find their place in this increasingly confusing world.

Violence committed against them confirms their greatest fears and gives them more fuel for their idealogical fire. Is there proof after a violent counter protest, Nazi recruitment numbers go down? That’s the argument from the left, but my thought experiments can’t play out a scenario when that would happen.

And the second point, which I think is much more telling, even my leftist friend confirmed my point with his own response.

2. When you condone violence against any hate group, it’s a slippery slope where anyone can designate someone as “a white nationalist” or a “hate group” and then assault them. I told my friend that the Berkley rally was organized (on Facebook at least) by a transwomen who supported Trump. The event was called “No More Marxism” to denounce Marxism on campus. This could have been a clever cover up, but it sounds far removed from a hate rally.

According to my friend, he only condoned violence against the UC Berkley protests AFTER he reviewed the Facebook profiles of the right-wing event attendees and confirmed that many of these people were in fact, white supremacists.

My question for him is, do you suspect that everyone on the left is going to do that type of rigorous research to decide the nuanced political backgrounds and beliefs of event attendees before they decide whether they will or will not violently stop their gathering?

As a thought experiment I asked my liberal friend, if I were to hold a “free speech experiment” in Berkley, what names would I be called? What accusations would be hurled against me? Would it be safe for me to hold an event like this?

My 30 years of experience on this planet suggests most people won’t do their research. It’s easier to assign a label and ignore the nuance and humanity in any problem.

And that’s our problem.

What we hate in others are things we hate in ourselves. However we’re blind and unwilling to look within ourselves and see the contrarian reflections we carry.

It’s no easy practice.

Nah, I’ll Take the Easy Way Out

Assigning a label onto “the other” and stating your superiority is much easier and it feels so much better in the moment, but it’s exactly the type of thinking that perpetuates these problem.

I could be wrong. This perspective may only be valid from my viewpoint because I’m a privileged white male who isn’t necessarily in the cross-hairs of the Nazi’s. I hear that.

I figured there were enough privileged white perspectives flying around the internet so maybe I should just shut up and continue my effort to try and be a good person to everyone I meet.

But as I was walking to work this morning I hear a young man start cussing at the police car that drives past us both.

“Bitch”

“Fuckers”

“Biiiiiiiiitch” he screams while making hand gestures in the direction of the passing cop car.

I take a moment to say something of a prayer in my head hoping one day he can be at peace with himself and others. I have no idea what he’s been through, but he’s obviously angry. The cycle continues.

On the same block I pass a door with two signs.

One is a picture of a muslim women stating “everyone’s welcome here” beautiful.

However, below it someone has placed a sticker that reads “Not Safe For Racists” with icons representing the KKK, Nazis and.. BART Police.

I think about how many different people probably make up the Bart Police. I suspect they are in general a decent bunch of people doing their best, right?

I call on my brothers and sisters and non-gender conforming other humans:

We can do better.

For the sake of our collective future, we have to.

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