Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Revolutionary?

D.A. Kirk

Outer space enthusiast. Japanese history junkie. I write about politics, culture, and mental illness. Disagreement is a precursor to progress.

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21 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    “But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that some questions are best left unanswered. And it seems to me that this is probably one of those questions.”

    Really? That question shouldn’t be answered? I assert the opposite. What do you stand for? Anything? Nothing? Where do you draw the line? What are you prepared to do when that line is crossed?

    Are you prepared to die for what you believe? ARE YOU?
    Are you prepared to kill for what you believe when the mobs come to hang you? To protect your children or family?

    Or will you stand holding your children in your arms as you face the firing squad?

    Knowing the answers to those questions, or at least, thinking about those questions, reveals who we really are. How can you live by principles if you aren’t prepared to back them up?Report

    • Philip H in reply to Damon says:

      I agree. You have to answer these questions. No one needs to know the answers until the operative moment, but you have to answer them.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Damon says:

      Very fair point, and two thumbs up on using a Trek clip to make it, lol. But just to be clear, when I say that this is a question that is best left unanswered, I’m not suggesting it’s not something worth thinking about, or that the question itself isn’t worth asking. I never would have written this piece if I felt that way. What I was trying to get across is the idea that I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure just how far I’d be willing to go in Riley’s scenario until the moment of truth actually arrives and I’m forced to make a call. And since that scenario will almost certainly never happen, that moment will probably never come, which means I’ll never actually have to make that decision.

      Am I happy about that? Of course! I’d prefer to never have to use violence in *any* scenario, real or imagined, if it can be avoided. But obviously there are times when it can’t be avoided, and maybe Riley’s scenario is one of them. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe someone will try to argue that nonviolent resistance is the better way to go. That’s why I wanted to write something up about it and get some feedback from you guys. I very much want to hear what other people think about it, especially since there’s so much politically motivated violence happening in the country right now.Report

      • Damon in reply to D.A. Kirk says:

        Well, it was either the Star Trek quote or a quote from the Lays of Rome. 🙂 Star Trek seemed to fit a mite better.

        Some other comments:
        “I don’t think I’ll ever know for sure just how far I’d be willing to go in Riley’s scenario until the moment of truth actually arrives and I’m forced to make a call” I submit to you that that is poor planning, because if you don’t know where you draw the line, trying to determine that during a highly stressful time seems a poor option. It seems to me the better option is to take the opportunity that time allows and consider the many options….and to prepare for some of those options, should you choose to do so.

        “And since that scenario will almost certainly never happen, that moment will probably never come….” Yeah. I thought the same thing until this year. Now, me not so sure. But I’ve always figured, being the pessimist, that there would be a “second civil war” in some form.Report

        • D.A. Kirk in reply to Damon says:

          “I submit to you that that is poor planning, because if you don’t know where you draw the line, trying to determine that during a highly stressful time seems a poor option.”

          Well, the good news is that I definitely know where I draw the line. I’m just not sure what the best response would be if/when that line was ever crossed. If we ever actually did pass hate speech laws similar to those in Canada, Germany, or the UK, I would totally ignore them. I won’t compromise on that issue. I don’t recognize the government’s right to outlaw offensive speech. That’s not a power I would ever trust in the hands of any human being or human institution, and I can’t see myself ever changing my mind about that.

          So now the question is whether I’m prepared to respond with violence if the government ever tries to punish me for engaging in hateful speech, and this is where it gets tricky. It’s not just about whether you can justify using violence, but also what the benefits and drawbacks of using violence might be. If I pull that hypothetical trigger, it could earn me the “terrorist” label and turn people off to the cause I’m standing up for. Alternatively, if I surrender and get dragged away to prison, my story might never even make the news, which would render the whole exercise a waste of time.

          IOW, you never know what kind of butterfly effect political violence might produce, and that complicates things. That’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot with the violence we’ve been seeing across the country over the last few months. Since you never really know what the long-term consequences of political violence might be, is it even worth factoring those potential consequences into your decision, or do you just roll the dice and hope for the best? I’m not really sure, but that’s another aspect of this topic that I’ve been trying to work through.Report

          • Damon in reply to D.A. Kirk says:

            I’ve never bothered to think about the impact of my actions might have on others. That’s on them. “It’s not just about whether you can justify using violence, but also what the benefits and drawbacks of using violence might be.” The benefits are that you live. The drawbacks are, well, who cares? Frankly, the odds are you’re not going to survive, or survive long. Might as well make a statement. What others think of your actions never concerned me one whit.Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    I think you answered your own question the moment the hypothetical you made the banned post. You take that action (making the post) because you have a plan and you are goading the government to take action so you can put your plan in motion.

    So the question actually is, what is your plan? If your plan is violence, then your plan (a 9mm against armored cops is not going to get you much of an honor guard in hell) is poorly thought out (let’s be honest, you are not alone; lots of people take such actions with poor plans for what happens next). If your plan is legal action, you need to not be grabbing the gun, but the phone to call your lawyer so he can be recording everything (or, better yet, securing the feed from the cloud based security system you just installed).

    Either way, you should have a plan. The plan is what has a chance of winning the day, not the action.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I was thinking the banned post was more of an impulsive act than the first step in a plan to bait the government into coming after me, but I hear what you’re saying and appreciate how you’re thinking beyond the moment of action itself.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to D.A. Kirk says:

        Impulsive acts made by common people rarely become the focal point of change.

        George Floyd is a focal point by accident.

        Heller was very much a focal point by design.

        At the end of the day, don’t take impulsive action that will have the authorities at your door unless your hand is being forced.Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
    Attributed to Mike Tyson, who knows.

    I had a longer post that maybe got eaten in the site disruption, but the gist of it is that if we want to know what we would do in a hypothetical tyrannical regime, we are doing it now.

    Because as I’ve said a dozen times here, life under tyranny is really, really pleasant and normal seeming, for a large enough group of people to have installed tyranny in the first place.

    An American tyranny wouldn’t come looking for a middle aged white guy, a senior professional in suit and tie who pays his taxes and never so much as jaywalks.

    In the American autocracy almost no one reading Ordinary Times would be on the government’s enemies list, no matter what we post on Facebook. Oh sure we might be banned from a site or even at worst, fired from our jobs, but in 99% of the cases, that would be enough to chill us out and get us to get with the program.

    If we want to know how we would behave in an American tyranny look at what we are doing and how we are responding to the powerless Americans right here and right now. We should stop imagining an American gulag as something out of a science fiction show, and start looking at our concentration camps for immigrants.

    Because even in America’s best days, under the very best conditions, there were and are pockets, certain places and people where freedom and rights are functionally limited and virtually nonexistent.Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      So if you believe we’re already living through tyranny, do you think that the violence we’ve been seeing lately has been mostly justified? Or that it might even be appropriate to turn up the intensity and frequency of that violence?

      And what are your thoughts about people who you believe are responsible for carrying out that tyranny? IOW, do you think it might be okay for, say, a group of protesters to carry out a violent attack on an ICE holding facility in order to free the people inside, even if it costs a few ICE agents their lives? I mean, if you characterize those facilities as bona fide concentration camps, I’d think you might be open to that idea.

      Just to be clear, these are sincere questions, not gotcha questions. I really feel like we as a society have been sort of dancing around this topic for the last several months, and I’d rather just face it directly, which is one of the reasons I wrote this post. That said, political violence is obviously a touchy subject, so I definitely understand if you don’t want to elaborate on your thoughts. Either way, thanks for commenting!Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to D.A. Kirk says:

        Coming from a Catholic background I rely on the principles that in order to be justified violence has to meet the criteria of being a last resort, and be proportional, and towards achievable ends.

        I don’t think we are at that place, yet. The people who are being oppressed still have the power of voting and using the legal system.

        If that “yet” in my sentence sounds like a veiled threat, it very much is. As the old saying goes, those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.

        And I don’t say this lightly. I live in downtown at the center of protests in a building that was smashed and looted and found myself in between a mob of protesters and the LAPD.

        So its real, this history we are living through. And like you, I hope and pray I won’t need to make the sort of decisions other people have had to make.

        Which is why I echo Saul, in that this isn’t a f*cking game of high school debate club, because real people are suffering and angry enough to kill.Report

        • D.A. Kirk in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I understand, and thanks for the response. I’m not in the same place you are in terms of how I view the situation we’re in right now, but I do agree that people need to believe that change can happen peacefully. No matter who wins the election, there will have to be steps taken to keep that belief intact as much as possible or I imagine the violence will only continue to escalate well into 2021.Report

        • George Turner in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          In all the time since Yuri Gagarin first orbited the Earth, Los Angeles has had one Republican mayor. Maybe the oppressed residents should try voting against their oppressors.Report

  4. Pat says:

    This question is framed in a way that I don’t know is helpful, as I have struggled with it.

    A better question is can you accept moral judgment in the pursuit of something that is necessary.

    Take the trolley problem. Whether you choose to pull the lever or not, afterwards someone is going to look you in the eye and claim, with all the justifacti9n in the world, that you murdered somebody.

    If you aren’t willing to stand and face that music maybe you need to tackle that first.

    Would you shoot Marty at the end of Cabin in the Woods?Report

    • D.A. Kirk in reply to Pat says:

      “A better question is can you accept moral judgment in the pursuit of something that is necessary.”

      I think I could, actually. The bigger issue for me is whether I could live with myself after initiating violence (especially of the lethal variety) against another human being, which is typically something I’d only do in a do-or-die situation.

      “Would you shoot Marty at the end of Cabin in the Woods?”

      I’m afraid I’ve never actually seen that movie, so I can’t answer that. Sorry!Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    There’s the “in theory” and there’s the “in practice” thing.

    Would you be willing to throw a brick through a window of a local greeting card shoppe on behalf of someone killed by the police two states over?Report

    • Pat in reply to Jaybird says:

      This one is trivially easy, no.

      (I also doubt that in a real root cause sense, anyone throwing a brick through a flower shop window is doing it because someone was killed by the police two states over.)Report

  6. Chip Daniels says:

    Some more thoughts-

    One of the reasons why Americans are susceptible to authoritarianism is that we have only the Hollywood version in our heads.
    Y’know, that Authoritarianism will look like Red Dawn or the Hunger Games, where good, honest stalwart citizens have their freedom ripped away by some shadowy forces, wholly against their will.

    But like in D.A.’s scenario, the repressive regime won’t look foreign at all, and the “shadowy government agents” that he is aiming at down the barrel of his gun are just the local police department, there to serve a lawful warrant.

    In other words, he’s talking about murdering cops, the thin blue line.

    I don’t mean it as a criticism of him because everyone who talks about the 2nd Amendment and watering the tree of liberty and resisting tyranny, is talking about murdering police officers in the line of duty. Because that’s what it will come down to. The front line in any government are local police.

    But even further- when we talk about the “regime” who the heck are we talking about? The swarthy furriners you saw in Red Dawn?
    No, the regime and its defenders are your local shopkeepers, your in-laws, your neighbor down the street.

    We like to imagine that somehow this could never be possible, that our friends and neighbors and cops couldn’t possibly collaborate with a repressive regime.

    So we invent a fantastical scenario where the person in our gunsights is someone foreign and alien and guaranteed to never actually happen, while we blind ourselves to the real thing in our midst.Report

  7. Hey DA, just wanted to tell you that I loved this piece – great job.Report

  8. Bill Blake says:

    Tyranny does not mean living in an unfenced concentration camp, it means living an ordinary life in which one accepts as normal the predations of the government and its enablers, where–instead of being a mediator between the inevitable disputes between a region’s denizens–government becomes the chief perpetrator of violence between those denizens. What we have is tyranny though, fortunately, not yet totalitarianism.

    But it is a (mostly) peaceful tyranny. There is a world of difference between a society in which mob enforcers come to the doors of every citizen in order to take 40% of whatever is they’ve earned and a society in which a government passes laws that tell people to hand over 40% *or else*. And that difference is critical to most of us. We can tell ourselves that it isn’t tyranny because nobody is in our face threatening to breaking our bones if we don’t hand over our hard earned wealth. This gives us moral cover for a more fundamental immorality: our preference for safety over freedom. And so we can tell ourselves that we are free, and that we don’t have cause for violence. We can do that because we refuse to see that that *or else* IS an act of violence, just as much as an overt threat made in person.

    Thus most of us become the sheeple that some deride us for being. We might impulsively violate the diktats of our government but, like that scenario, we’d then sit there passively awaiting our fate. We won’t even pick up that gun, we’ll open the door for the criminals in uniform, welcome them in, and leave our fate to a judicial system we *know* is going to kill or imprison us for some long period.

    This is not morality. It is an abdication of morality, the use of morality as a cover for one’s preference for comfort over freedom. It is a rejection of responsibility for one’s own life, an abandonment of oneself and those one loves to the not at all tender mercies of those who have chosen violence. However much we may pretend otherwise, we *know* this.

    The person in that scenario isn’t a fool for not firing his gun, if that is his (likely final) choice. He’s a fool for having sat there awaiting his fate. He’s a fool for having not become a revolutionary *before* he opened his mouth and offended the government. He’s a fool for having accepted the notion that law is not violence, that there is a moral difference between a government that has overstepped its legitimate boundaries and a mafia.

    And most of us are fools in just that way. Which is why, when revolution inevitably comes, we will for the most part cower in our comfortable caves and rat out the actual revolutionaries–those who, in fighting for their own freedom, fight for ours as well. We won’t deserve what they would give us and, should they succeed, soon enough we will–once again–forget that freedom depends on the willingness to meet the violent with violence.Report