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Words, disrespect, and violence

Life is keeping me busy,and I haven’t had time to craft a post in quite a while. Last night I got involved in a very frustrating discussion with someone who is very strongly libertarian. We had both had too much to drink over the course of the day, though at least I was sober for it, and we were both operating on very little sleep. I don’t know that it actually affected the character of the conversation we had.

What I found frustrating is that the other person in the discussion was extremely forceful and aggressive in conversation. When she asked a question that was simple in its wording, but far-reaching in its implications, I would start to answer, and would immediately be attacked with another question. If you have political discussions on any sort of semi-regular basis, you’ve probably been in a similar situation.

I use the word attacked very specifically. Throughout this conversation, because I believe that people do have obligations to one another, that the social welfare state is actually a good model, and that (therefore) taxation (with representation) is legitimate; because my PhD research is funded by DARPA, my father was in the military, and I have connections to the military,  I was accused of being an advocate of violence. The word murderer even came up.

I’ve had discussions with people who straddle the line between libertarianism and anarchism in the past, and they have generally managed to be polite. We don’t yell at each other, and we don’t get in each others’ faces. We do interrupt each other at times, and certainly we’re condescending to each other, but we are not aggressive.

My point here is always be polite in political discussion. It’s difficult, but that’s what this blog is about– cases in which people lose their self-control, and debate breaks down into violence. The second point is that violence is not merely physical. Violence can be created with words just as easily as with fists. Calling someone a murderer and an advocate of violence is an act of violence in itself, especially when accompanied with volume and questions meant not to guide discussion, but to attack the beliefs of another.

I do not know if the person I was arguing with counts herself as a pacifist. I suspect she may, because of her emphasis on the invalidity of the use of force. If you are to call yourself a pacifist though, and object to the use of force, I believe you’re directly contravening your own principles when you make use of an aggressive style of argument.

My response to her aggressive style was not to yell back, or make accusations, or resort to personal attacks– I finally, frustrated with not being able to fully respond, said one word: “Hush”. This ended the conversation, as she refused to speak to me because I was disrespectful.

I respect her opinions, and upon some googling, I respect that she is involved in her local community in trying to make her ideas take form. I disagree with her, of course, but I’m not opposed to the idea that I could learn something from her approach. She completely shut down that possibility in discussion by her approach.

Political debate that turns aggressive and verbally violent only generates further animosity. Politics is about compromise; it’s about persuasion. It’s about finding the place where we agree, and figuring out what violations of our principles we can live with for the sake of living with other people. If you want to teach people, or help them understand why your way is better, you should never resort to verbal violence.

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