Cowards, assault, & the Nation magazine

Lewis Allen Wilson. Steven Glenn Young. William Burleigh. Michael Carey.

These are just some of the people killed in Oregon over the last few years—from one punch.

Teaching self-defense has been my only profession for the last 25 years. That much of the population is uninformed is about the dangers inherent in blunt force trauma to the skull isn’t news. What is news is the surprising number of people who think it’s morally acceptable to punch someone in the face if they consider their views repugnant.

A few days ago, a widely viewed video of white nationalist, Richard Spencer, being sucker punched in the side of the head by a protestor went viral.

There is nothing extraordinary about the existence of white nationalists, or violent protestors. What is surprising is that many well-known left wing activists, and outlets, are applauding this assault. When Portland Philosophy professor, Peter Boghossian asked on Twitter, “Do you think it’s a good thing that a bad man was punched?”, secular activist, Dan Arel responded, “I have no problem with it. Racists must know their message won’t be tolerated here.”

Responses like this can be forgiven because they reflect an ignorance about the dangers of head trauma. Many people may not know that when people’s skulls run into concrete, this often leads to serious injury or death. What cannot be forgiven, however, is the complete lack of self-awareness required to miss the irony inherent in advocating physical violence as an appropriate response to ugly ideas. I’m quite sure many were fully capable of turning Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” into wearable fashion over night, but somehow the same people cannot think of a witty retort to a neo Nazi whose missed his calling by 77 years?

For those may claim I’m being hyperbolic when I say “many well-known left wing activists and outlets”, and painting with too broad brush, take a look at this article from The Nation.

To quote:

The transcendental experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis, David Foster Wallace wrote, was one of “kinetic beauty.” Federer’s balletic precision and mastering of time, on the very edge of what seems possible for a body to achieve, was a form of bodily genius. What Foster Wallace saw in a Federer Moment, I see in a video of neo-Nazi Richard Spencer getting punched in the face.”


Two things. First, it’s obvious from the immaturity of those words that the author of that passage knows nothing about real violence, which, given their fairytale view on it, is probably fortunate. And second, as a Mixed Martial Arts coach whose been working with athletes for well over two decades, I’ve never heard anyone romanticize a poorly thrown sucker punch launched at a man who was facing away – but the again, I train actual fighters, not cowards.

It’s as cliché as it is true: freedom of speech becomes most important the moment it’s applied to concepts, thoughts, and ideas we find abhorrent. It’s when the speech is really ugly, vulgar, repulsive, that freedom of expression matters. The best way to deal with people who have bad ideas is, in the spirit of Martin Luther King and Ghandi, to rationally and civilly, engage those ideas, not to punch them in the head. And those who consider themselves “liberal” should be the first to recognize this.

In physical violence, perhaps safe spaces have reached their ultimate conclusion. They’ve created a group of people incapable of vigorous debate on ideas, and so handicapped by way of creative response that all they have at their disposal are tools of censorship and violence. And doesn’t that sound eerily similar to some other notorious groups? Perhaps Dan Arel and Richard Spencer have a lot more in common than either has yet to realize.

There in lies the irony so much of the modern left seems to be missing. It’s not easy to make a man like Donald Trump look good by comparison, but the people who physically assault others because of words, and those who applaud them – manage to pull it off.

Here is something Natasha Lennard (writer of the Nation piece), Dan Arel, and all their left wing fans clearly don’t understand. Sometimes violence is the answer. But when violence is the right answer, it is only because it is the only answer. Your job, is to make sure the reason it’s the only answer is because it’s your final option – not because you’re too creatively inept, too communicatively feeble, and too witlessly impotent – to respond any other way.