Monday, May 16, 2016

Political Violence Review

I think one of my few contributions to the Grand Conversation is my observation about the difference between political violence from the left and from the right.  I don't see it anywhere else. The original observation was that right-wing violence tends to be more threatening and defensive, while left-wing violence tends to be more aggressive, going on offense.  I looked over the last 100-200 years and saw that pattern generally hold.  Beyond that I did not venture, as left vs right diminishes in overlap the farther back we go.

I see it professionally in the paranoid rightists who hole up at home with weapons, seldom going out but posting dark threats on the internet.  Or maybe on signs in their yard.  You have read them in comments sections.  "If Obama (Hillary/ATF/the Feds/NWO/FEMA) tries to come after my guns they are going to see the revolution start right here."  They sound scary.  I know people like this, not only patients, but staff.  Yet hang on, they aren't all that scary, though I can see why folks think so.

Leftist violence is far more aggressive. Americans see that this is so in other countries, but have trouble seeing it here.  Even when one points out - union thugs, environmentalist vandalism, provacative counterprotest, OWS, minority protest, antiglobalist demonstration - it still doesn't register.  "No, no!  It's those Tea Party people who are violent! Those mass shooters all have right-wing sympathies. We French Literature majors hate guns, and won't even let our children hold their fingers out and go 'bang bang!' None of our people have guns, they're vegans."  That the mass shooters, other than being merely ill, are most often Islamists, second-most often liberals, and only lastly right-wing "doesn't enter into it." to quote the Parrot Sketch.

I have usually attributed that reversal of the brute facts to media bias and inability of leftists to even peep in the mirror with one eye. Those have their place, and I don't back down from that. But there are advantages to long walks over rough terrain. 1) One grows tired of repeating oneself when talking to oneself.  When you are in the everyday world, you can drift back to a subject at your usual starting place and not get very far before you are interrupted.  Then you drift back, not to where you left off, but to your usual starting point.* 2.) Physical activity improves mood, allowing one to feel more kindly disposed to others. 3.) Sweeping vistas encourage one to think in terms of decades, even centuries, instead of Trump/Hillary/Kardashian. 4.) Discomfort heightens the awareness of mortality and injury, which in turns causes reflection on what topics are really important. (It comes to me at this moment that I have much more to say about this. Soon.) 5, 6, 7.) There's more.  But those are the big ones.

I think there is also something to the idea that trying to change things is more often leftist in our current configurations, while supporting the status quo is more often rightist, which reinforces the offense/defenseframing.

The Left believes in fear that the Right is dangerously violent, a powder keg barely contained by government and the unsleeping vigilance of good liberals.  That is prejudiced, insane, self-serving, projection, all those things.  But the value of sanity is the ability to condescend, in the old sense, into the thought of others.  It occurred to me on my walk why this is wrong, but not insanely wrong; projection, but not invented out of whole cloth. 

Okay, I could semicolon my way through about six more similar expressions, but you take the point.

Extreme right wing people - I was speaking with one today - talk about guns and violence a lot more when referring to politics. They assert "There's a revolution coming! People won't put up with this forever!"  All sorts of stuff like that. Now, if you are an art-history major, gun-control, Bernie-supporting liberal and you hear that, it scares the Bejeesus out of you.  Because if one of your people were talking like that, they really would be dangerous.That's not just prejudice, narrative, and media bias on the part of liberals.  It is mostly just projection, but based on good evidence.  The people in the Democrat coalition who talk like that shoot people.

Don't tell me no, I not only have read about them, I have them at my hospital. (Reminder, BTW.  I have enough longevity to remember that the clinical staff at my hospital thought patients who talked about killing Reagan or Bush 41/43 were funny, justified. We didn't even call the Secret Service. Yet patients who even hinted that Clinton or a Kennedy should be dead cause the blood to drain from faces. Liberals aren't all that strict in their hatred of violence.  I don't think I've heard a death threat against Obama.)

Republicans, especially conservatives, and even more especially libertarians have lots of folks who talk like that.  "Lots" meaning oh, 4% rather than 0.4%, just to make up numbers.  But in the end, when you tot up the actual number of dead bodies lying in the street, the 4% hasn't shot anyone. or worn an explosive vest into campaign headquarters, or blocked the roads and turned over cars  and burned them so that people can't speak, or gotten people fired for saying the wrong things.  It's the 0.4% that has done that.  Still, I get why liberal folks get nervous. You live in a culture and you think that's what everyone else is like.  The Charles Murray Bubble Quiz illustrates that the elites -largely but not entirely Democrats - does not understand the rest of the citizenry.  There are, after all, probably ten times as many rightists mumbling alarming things and shaking their fists and not reading the social cues that "we don't talk about those things in polite company."

*One of the great joys of math and science, even in their popular forms of baseball statistics or gnawing at whether an analogy is valid, is that you can pretty much pick up where you left off.  You can let the kite string out a little farther each time.


Christopher B said...

Good thoughts, and made me pause to reconsider some things.

To add to your point about seeing their compatriots commit violence, I'd added that only rarely are explicitly right-wing institutions the targets of such violence. The McMurray building, Gabby Gifford, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino (a party of social workers) were all either ideologically neutral to left. Other than assaults and vandalism at various GOP offices it's hard to think of a right wing institution that has suffered a comparable attack.

What about Trump? Cruz's rhetoric was almost as inflammatory, certainly from a policy perspective, but he didn't raise even a proportionate level of offensive opposition. I go back to the Red shirt/Brown shirt formula. Either consciously or unconsciously Trump supporters and Bernie supporters know they are trying to influence the same groups.

Trimegistus said...

I don't know why you think Leftists don't talk about violence. They constantly talk about violence. They constantly make "jokes" about Sarah Palin getting gang-raped. They constantly talk about "smashing the state" or "smashing capitalism." They constantly talk about killing and violence.

The big difference: leftists want someone else to do the actual killing. They want the blood on some underling's hands. Right-wingers puff and preen about "my cold dead fingers" but leftists want some anonymous goons to do their bidding.

In short, leftists aren't just vicious, arrogant, bigoted, insane, and hateful: they are also a bunch of big cowards.

Grim said...

Well, nice liberals want that. That's why they wink at union violence. As to which, in fairness to the unions, it was once a real motivator of progress -- the main thing the US Army was used for following the end of the Indian Wars and before WWI was to break strikes. A lot of good things came out of those early unions being willing to stand up even to Federal troops.

So, you know, sometimes political violence can be a good thing. Sometimes it's the point at which a divided nation sorts out what it really cares about and will accept.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

You both hit it. They don't actually buy guns or knives themselves nor mess with those who do. It's culture war stuff, and they are as concerned with getting rid of Gun People as they are of getting rid of guns. But if someone else does it, they are fujlly prepared to go into action to defend them.

Witness my relatives defending the right of anti-Trump protestors to shut down his ability to speak, and his supporters right to assemble.

james said...

What do you make of the claim that somebody fired shots into his campaign office in Nevada?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Wait and see.

But let me hazard a guess that it wasn't white supremacists, Civil War re-enactors, or libertarians.

james said...

I dunno if one of his staffers made up a lot of stuff or if somebody(s) really did use some muscle, but I think your guess is pretty good.

BTW, my experience with picking up an old thread in math or physics is that I have to spend some time getting back up to speed. I guess there's a lot of stuff in medium term memory that needs to be reloaded-- Level 2 cache, maybe.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Yes, I no longer do much of it, but one of the necessary abilities in many fields is the ability to hold an idea out to the side, memory undegraded, while working on something that will fit into it. Such as "Okay, that seems to be increasing by the square, and the major data points are 3.5 and 12.3." Or "Second basemen are more valuable than third basemen when measuring WAR, but this diminishes rapidly if their fielding range is below-average," while you go off and examine something else to see if the pattern repeats.

bs king said...

I can't remember if you've answered this before, but where do you fit the pro-life movement in to this model? That seems to be the one conservative group that consistently goes on offense.

Any thoughts as to why that particular group would be different?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

They really are in-your-face, and it may mostly be that part about trying to change the status quo. They have a reputation for encouraging violent weirdos, though I'm not sure if that's justified or just some memories kept alive and not others.

Except, now that I think of it, the whole status quo vs change in a group might indeed have an effect on the unstable. In any group that is focused on direct action, there may be more psychological push to take more action. I am tempted to adopt the theory that those changing the world will naturally tend more toward confrontation. Yet when I try to fit that into 60's civil rights protest and repression, or secret police violence, or 2nd C Christian evangelism, it doesn't hold up that neatly.