Responding to Acts of Evil: Proportionality and Necessity

[warning for moral arguments, torture mention, death mention, murder mention, violence mention, and mention of Osama bin Laden and associated actions, suicide mention, bullying mention]

Recently the question arose as to how to achieve justice- how to prevent and respond to acts of evil.

I thought for a while, and I seem to have come up with this.

1. How should we determine the morally optimal degree of response?

Responses should not be more than proportional, because if we responded with more force than proportional, would mean that we could torture someone for 1,000 years (a really really awful thing) in response to them torturing someone else for a day (a less awful thing). So proportionality is the upper bound of our response.

But sometimes it’s not right to punish someone proportionally to their action- after all, if we punished someone proportionally to their action, then we could torture someone for a day (a bad thing) in response to them torturing someone else for a day (a bad thing). Most people would agree that torturing someone for a day is wrong, and I hope that you do, too. Sometimes we need to respond to someone with less than proportional action.

When should we respond to someone with less than proportional action? When we can stop them with less-than-proportional action. If we can stop someone from hurting someone with action that is less than proportional, we must take that action and nothing more. This is because harming someone needlessly is wrong.

So our rules here are:

1) We can’t hurt someone more than they’ve hurt us.

2) We can’t hurt someone more than is necessary for stopping them.

This is actually a really cool framework, and I am somewhat confident that it will hold up to a great deal of examples.

2. How does this apply to addressing fascism?

I will answer some likely questions that one might have, using this framework of response. It’s in the context of discussing fascism, but might also be applied to addressing other harmful ideologies and actions.

What should be our response to expressing fascist ideas?

Expressing fascist ideas creates potential for hurt, but must not be met with any of the following:

Violence, threats of imminent and plausible harm, or telling people to commit suicide/do self harm/somehow die.

You should not do any of the things that I have listed here, because, as I state in an earlier post, doing so means that people can’t express their opinions, fascists can’t be conclusively countered and disproven in the open, and, worst of all, observers won’t be able to have access to all the arguments and discussion that they might need.

[Punishing free speech] hurts the culture of free speech…

Shutting people up isn’t always bad- sometimes it’s a good thing. But killing and assaulting people can be used to silence good opinions just as easily as bad ones. This means that you won’t have any automatic feedback about whether your opinions are good or bad, which means you could miss something really important.

Violence in response to speech or personal attacks in response to speech are both blunt instruments, and that they discard good ideas as well as bad.

Open debate means that everyone observing is able to see the arguments in full. They can judge them by their merits and see the evidence for themselves- the more information, the more open debate, the better, as Chelsea Manning’s example shows.

Violence and personal attacks (that are not in response to personal attacks) silence good ideas just as well as bad ones. It means that people can’t see all the arguments to choose, which means that power is out of their hands and into whoever whoever is being violent and using personal attacks.

If your arguments and beliefs are good, better than fascism, then you don’t need to violently attack and personally attack fascists into silence. You just need to argue with them- maybe by calling them racists, maybe by glaring at them, maybe by screaming at them. If people can’t express opinions without a fear of violence and personal attack, then they don’t really have freedom of speech in reality.

Moreover, when you violently attack and personally attack fascists for expressing their beliefs, you’re not just silencing fascists. You’re also making other people afraid to speak up- because they don’t know who might be next and what degree of opinion is okay. You might think that you can draw a line between fascists and everyone else, but what if you lose the reins of power to other antifas, and now they think your opinions should be silenced?

People need to be able to access information in order to decide issues, for themselves.

This doesn’t mean that we have to listen to fascists- we can no-platform them, we can block them, we can violently oppose them as soon as they advocate imminent and plausible harm to others. But we can’t attack people for expressing their true thoughts.

Ideas aren’t just ideas. That’s why it’s so important that we be open to new ones.

However, I recognize that people are not perfect. I forgive anyone and everyone who has ever done the above in response to expressing fascist ideas, if they feel guilty in any way; if you’re not convinced that these are bad things, this last paragraph is not for you.

Expressing fascist ideas should not be met with personal attacks.

(I define personal attacks not as typical things like “you absolute jackass asshole!” or “fuck off” or “I hate you”, but as mockery of specific attributes of that person, e.g., making fun of someone for being overweight or for having to use a wheelchair.)

Making personal attacks might hurt people in your readership, on your side, who share the irrelevant attributes. It also increases stigma against people with those traits.

Moreover, it is not very effective at getting fascists to stop being fascists, at making your people (minorities who might share those traits) to feel safer, or at countering fascism to a neutral audience. Like the other things mentioned above, it’s a blunt tactic- you can hurt good people and good ideas just as easily by making fun of them as you can hurt bad people and bad ideas.

There might be good reasons for making personal attacks on someone, like in order to be a safe place for expressing anger and being true to oneself, but sometimes too many people making and agreeing to personal attacks leads to bad consequences. Due to personal mockery getting out of hand and becoming ganging-up, people have committed suicide or had PTSD attacks.

Unless you want fascists to commit suicide or have PTSD attacks (which is a bad thing and isn’t necessary to stop them from harming others), then you shouldn’t let personal attacks on fascists get out of hand.

How should we respond to fascists who make personal attacks?

We should make personal attacks back or block them, but try to not let it get out of hand (see above).

How should we respond to fascists who do violence, make threats of imminent and plausible harm, or tell people to commit suicide/do self harm/somehow die?

We do what is necessary to shut them up, to stop them, to imprison them. This includes vigilante murder, violence, or threats if necessary. We respond proportionally and necessarily to their action.

How should we respond to openly fascist people running nonviolently for positions of power?

If they aren’t nationally successful, all of the above tactics would work to oppose them. If they take a province, focus on protecting human rights through federal power, protests, and getting minorities out of that province as quickly as possible. Violence does not seem like an effective answer (see the reason given in the next paragraph), but is acceptable due to the likely harm they are threatening.

If they are nationally successful, I don’t know what to do, but I suspect that violence would not be a good answer. It would be used against us to consolidate their power, much like how Hitler used the Reichstag fire to claim dictatorial powers. But violence would be both proportionate and necessary to prevent harm- fascists and fascism in power are (likely) inevitably and inherently violent.

If fascists have taken the government, there is the imminent threat of violence against us, and we should concentrate on getting minorities out of the country, establishing a system of safehouses, and coordinating a resistance. Violence is acceptable, but not necessarily effective. We pretend to be fascists and sabotage the war machine in any way that we can. We plan coups. We try to keep the ideals of democracy and human rights alive. We look to the German resistance as our guide.

(See here for an explanation of what fascism is and what I am referring to here.)

How should we respond to a fascist government from outside the country?

Under my paradigm, as soon as a fascist government takes power, we sabotage it in the most effective way possible, including through violence, in order to prevent harm. This is proportional to the likely harm that the government is threatening to its people.

This paradigm works to prevent fascists from doing harm on all levels- individually, nationally, and internationally. It does so while attempting to harm as few people as possible.

3. We must not believe accusations of fascism without evidence.

This would make it extremely easy for fascists to sabotage antifa. Also, nearly all political groups have been accused of fascism:

Conservatives: All Conservatives, appeasers or anti-appeasers, are held to be subjectively pro-Fascist. British rule in India and the Colonies is held to be indistinguishable from Nazism. Organizations of what one might call a patriotic and traditional type are labelled crypto-Fascist or ‘Fascist-minded’. Examples are the Boy Scouts, the Metropolitan Police, M.I.5, the British Legion. Key phrase: ‘The public schools are breeding-grounds of Fascism’.

Socialists: Defenders of old-style capitalism (example, Sir Ernest Benn) maintain that Socialism and Fascism are the same thing. Some Catholic journalists maintain that Socialists have been the principal collaborators in the Nazi-occupied countries. The same accusation is made from a different angle by the Communist party during its ultra-Left phases. In the period 1930-35 the Daily Worker habitually referred to the Labour Party as the Labour Fascists. This is echoed by other Left extremists such as Anarchists. Some Indian Nationalists consider the British trade unions to be Fascist organizations.

Communists: A considerable school of thought (examples, Rauschning, Peter Drucker, James Burnham, F. A. Voigt) refuses to recognize a difference between the Nazi and Soviet régimes, and holds that all Fascists and Communists are aiming at approximately the same thing and are even to some extent the same people. Leaders in The Times (pre-war) have referred to the U.S.S.R. as a ‘Fascist country’. Again from a different angle this is echoed by Anarchists and Trotskyists.

Trotskyists: Communists charge the Trotskyists proper, i.e. Trotsky’s own organization, with being a crypto-Fascist organization in Nazi pay. This was widely believed on the Left during the Popular Front period. In their ultra-Right phases the Communists tend to apply the same accusation to all factions to the Left of themselves, e.g. Common Wealth or the I.L.P.

Catholics: Outside its own ranks, the Catholic Church is almost universally regarded as pro-Fascist, both objectively and subjectively;

War resisters: Pacifists and others who are anti-war are frequently accused not only of making things easier for the Axis, but of becoming tinged with pro-Fascist feeling.

Supporters of the war: War resisters usually base their case on the claim that British imperialism is worse than Nazism, and tend to apply the term ‘Fascist’ to anyone who wishes for a military victory. The supporters of the People’s Convention came near to claiming that willingness to resist a Nazi invasion was a sign of Fascist sympathies. The Home Guard was denounced as a Fascist organization as soon as it appeared. In addition, the whole of the Left tends to equate militarism with Fascism. Politically conscious private soldiers nearly always refer to their officers as ‘Fascist-minded’ or ‘natural Fascists’. Battle-schools, spit and polish, saluting of officers are all considered conducive to Fascism. Before the war, joining the Territorials was regarded as a sign of Fascist tendencies. Conscription and a professional army are both denounced as Fascist phenomena.

Nationalists: Nationalism is universally regarded as inherently Fascist, but this is held only to apply to such national movements as the speaker happens to disapprove of. Arab nationalism, Polish nationalism, Finnish nationalism, the Indian Congress Party, the Muslim League, Zionism, and the I.R.A. are all described as Fascist but not by the same people.


If we allowed people to discredit others by accusations of fascism, then we would end up believing that all of the above are fascist. That dilutes the meaning of the word fascist and leads to unfair persecution of people who are not fascists.

I hope that this proposed system of evaluation is useful for future application to real-world events.

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