By Damon Krane
Monday, August 23, 2004
The Athens News
Thanks to the annual North American Anarchist Convergence being held in Athens last weekend, an unusual amount of local newsprint has been devoted to two leftist political ideologies — anarchism and pacifism. Regardless of one’s political leanings, anyone struggling to figure out how to behave as a morally responsible person within our complicated world should agree: questions of power and violence should be approached with cautious, rigorous thinking. With this in mind, I’d like to respond to a “Reader’s Forum” column written by the local pacifist Gary “Spruce” Houser that appeared in the Aug. 12 Athens NEWS.
In the piece, Houser puts forth a weak argument — not against anything unique to anarchism — but against the use of property destruction and violence in any and all situations.
Houser argues that those who advocate selective property destruction within movements for social justice are headed down a “slippery slope” that “could eventually escalate to the infliction of violence against people.”
“Violence,” writes the pacifist Houser, “is the problem, not the solution.” Thus, those who advocate “violence” (presumably defined by Houser as the use of physical force to harm another person or that person’s property in any and all situations) are engaging in “the very same destructive force that is the cause of the world’s suffering.” Houser cites a list of victories for peace and justice that “have all been gained by movements based on nonviolence.” Thus, quoting Gandhi, Houser asks rhetorically, “What is revolutionary about violence?”
Why Houser chooses to use the term “slippery slope” I do not know, for it is the name given to a particular type of logical fallacy and a textbook example of faulty reasoning. Hypothetically speaking, it could be true that selective acts of property destruction lead to belligerent acts of violence against people. But in the absence of supportive evidence (Houser presents none), there is no reason to believe that such a “slippery slope” exists. Otherwise, it would be just as self-evident that the Boston Tea Party is at the root of the US invasion of Iraq, and that gay marriage leads directly to rampant bestiality. This is not a line of reasoning upon which anything should be based, much less something as important as a political strategy for achieving positive social change.
When Houser refers to any instance of violence as “the very same destructive force,” I have to wonder if he is suggesting that any act of violence is just as bad as any other. But if it is not the case that any violence necessarily leads to all violence (Houser’s “slippery slope” argument), then there is no reason to believe that all violence is morally equivalent.
Questions of violence should always be approached with the utmost caution and skepticism. So too should the notion that pacifism is a viable strategy for ending all forms of oppression and injustice. If there is a good argument for pacifism, Houser didn’t present it in his column.