Opinion: Empathize with violence

A man in a swastika armband stands guard at a prison. On the other side of a barbed-wire fence, a caricature of a feminist, with cat-eye glasses, glares at him. “Honestly, we weren’t even interested in concentration camps,” says the guard, “but people would not stop punching us.”

The crudely drawn one-panel comic where this scene takes place was retweeted by the infinitely punchable Richard Spencer, who swears he isn’t a Nazi — even though he thinks “peaceful ethnic cleansing” is a great idea.

So, now that you got punched, do you think concentration camps are okay? Not to mention the fact that the concentration camps and systematic murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust didn’t happen because “people would not stop punching” the Nazis. They happened because of racism and antisemitism.

Too often, in politics, as well as in interpersonal communication, people insist they would agree, if only people would be nicer.

This action of judging an argument based on how someone expresses it, rather than what they say, is known as the “argument from tone.” In addition to being a logical fallacy, it actively upholds existing power structures.

Writing for the Federalist, senior contributor Nicole Russell argues that “Black Lives Matter’s violence undermines its credibility.” In addition to pointing to legitimate acts of violence, she bizarrely accuses a woman of an “aspect of violence” for “disrupting traffic,” and calls for a “a movement… in line with the success of the 1960’s civil rights movement” without “boorish language and dress.”

Never mind that in the actual 1960s, Martin Luther King, Jr. acknowledged that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” Or the fact that Black Lives Matter has condemned the few acts of violence carried out by people unaffiliated with the organization.

Furthermore, when you say you would support a human rights movement if not for a few isolated incidents, then you’re saying violence is okay when it’s done by the right people. You’re saying it’s okay for a group to continue being mistreated, just because a few of them don’t act the way you want them to.

Whatever your thoughts on the role of violence and when it is and is not appropriate, just because someone violently expresses an opinion, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. What it does tell you is how much they care. Condemn violence, if you feel you must, but try to empathize with the people carrying it out.