On the ethical implications of punching Richard Spencer.

Opinion, Uncategorized

You’ve probably seen the footage by now – circulated around the world. Richard Spencer, creator of the “alt-right” term and a key figure of this movement, is being interviewed on a street. From the left suddenly comes a sucker-punch that hits him right on the side of his head. Both the attacker and Spencer run in opposite directions.

There’s been plenty of debate on social media on the ethics of punching Richard Spencer. Though Spencer claims that he isn’t a Nazi, he has often espoused views closely linked not only with the Nazis but other white supremacist groups. One only need to look at the article, “Is Black Genocide Right?”, written by Colin Liddell and published on a website formerly run by Spencer.

It strikes me that one of the main things about having a good debate is how it is framed. Get that right and the chances are something good will be the outcome. However, for too long now, when we consider questions of race, especially questions concerning the Black race, we have been framing things in completely the wrong way. Instead of asking how we can make reparations for slavery, colonialism, and Apartheid or how we can equalize academic scores and incomes, we should instead be asking questions like, “Does human civilization actually need the Black race?” “Is Black genocide right?” and, if it is, “What would be the best and easiest way to dispose of them?” With starting points like this, wisdom is sure to flourish, enlightenment to dawn.

Some of the arguments against the ethics of physical violence against white supremacists such as Spencer is that violence is never an answer; we must engage with debate, we must argue and give counter-point, we must educate those who could fall victim to the vicious and disturbing rhetoric that Spencer and so many of his cronies espouse. Others, on the other side, not only find the video entertaining but approve of the violence; after all, nothing is more American than punching a Nazi, right?

However, I personally find both of these arguments not only false, but startlingly simplistic in the face of increasingly complex times.

We live in an era where the populist far-right is gaining more and more political control than ever before. In Britain, we have the Brexit era looming over us all as the Tories continue to eviscerate not only the NHS but public housing and grants for the disabled, with a divided left that is struggling to pose a realistic alternative. In the United States, we of course have the rise of Donald Trump. And Marine Le Pen is only so far over the horizon in France.

We live in an era where “the truth” means less and less every day. Where a politician can openly mock a disabled reporter who criticises him, who is recording advocating the sexual assault of women, and not only is there no repercussions to his actions but his devotees love him all the more for “saying it as it is.”

We live in an era where someone like Kellyanne Conway can call a lie an “alternative fact.” The implications of such a statement are terrifying. Now that the far-right are in power, and already savaging the media that dare critiques them, they now are starting to change the meaning of the truth. Such a change might seem whimsical or even silly, but it’s arguably one of the most important things that’s come out of Trump’s election. By changing the nature of truth, Trump can dictate who is telling the truth. Once he is able to construct his own narrative, Trump can do whatever he wants. He can erase the LGBT community, demonise ethnic minorities, and claim that climate change is a hoax, all of which seem to be on his radar. Within a couple of hours web-pages referencing these disappeared from the official White House website.

Of course, we’re not so far gone that Trump has authoritarian power. Just two days ago, women led marches around the globe in protest at Trump. Whilst we might be divided, at the same time never have those opposed to people like Trump been so united. Trump’s rhetoric is inspiring action. With this inspiration, violence is going to become an issue.

Whilst I personally can’t condone wide-spread violence, I can’t help but feel amused at the video of Spencer’s attack. It’s a manifestation of what many people are thinking. Spencer was shut-down and his interview was ended. His rhetoric, however briefly, was finished. That’s a good result.

When debate is no longer possible, violence occurs. We’ve seen this before. Anyone who is saying that there should be no violence against people who advocate genocide against any race are frankly being ridiculous. The Nazi analogy, however complicated, is an apt one. And whilst I would be one of the first to disparage anyone equating Trump to Hitler, you can’t fail to see the similarities in modus operandi.

We can’t afford to take the moral high ground if it means that all we do is say that this is wrong and leave it at that. Hope is a fool’s dream. It’s dangerous to hope right now, because hope can lead to inactivity and passivity to the events around us. The new challenge is to actively start calling out and challenging those who speak like this. It’s no longer acceptable to just let it pass you by in a haze of non-confrontation. Call it out. Speak out. When lies are becoming more and more acceptable every day, that’s the only thing to do. We have to start looking at these issues more carefully, and not with such a black-and-white view of morality and the world. We can’t end the conversation on “this isn’t right” or “this isn’t right.” We have to start looking at the consequences of what this judgement means. We have to think, and we have to speak. We can’t afford not to anymore.

Whatever the ethics of physical violence against white supremacists, we can’t afford to continue giving them a platform. I’m disgusted at Simon & Schuster for publishing Milo Yiannopoulos’s new book. Free speech isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for spewing racist and misogynist views. Free speech isn’t about the equal pushing of all ideas. It’s about the freedom to combat any and all ideas. If enough of us start now, Trump’s rhetoric, Marine Le Pen’s rhetoric, none of it will be able to latch. Don’t normalise it. Fight it.

Comic Review: Love in Vain, Robert Johnson, 1911-1938 (2016)

Comics

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Love in Vain tackles one of American pop-culture’s most enduring, mysterious, and interesting figures, bluesman Robert Johnson, and retells his life-story in a widescreen graphic novel format. Some might say that there is a certain redundancy in telling the life story of a musician, particularly one who’s sound was as unique and prophetic as Johnson’s, in a soundless medium; but J.M. Dupont’s non-fiction / prose-poetry writing style (newly translated into English from it’s original French by Ivanka Hahnenberger) and Mezzo’s scratchy, seedy, and filthy art style captures the existential darkness that was the center of Johnson’s best songs.

Love in Vain is quite a short comic, clocking in at 56 pages. It can easily be read in one sitting, and that’s how I did it and would recommend all readers to do it (It might also be advisory to have a copy of Peter Guralnick’s brilliant summation of Johnson’s life, Searching for Robert Johnson, by your tableside). The sparse, stripped down writing style, echoing the non-fiction that Dupont so fearlessly searched through, communicates Johnson’s life-story with the bare minimum of detail. This sparse prose is punctuated by haunting pieces of original poetry. Take for example, the opening rhymes of the comic:

Poor Robert, your life ended in tragedy – which the angels must consider well deserved…

But before judgement is served, they need to understand your choice – to be a sinner with a demonic voice…

And why you burned your life to hell.

This is the tale I’m here to tell.

Dupont’s prose / poetic style is simple and clean-cut, and suspiciously doesn’t try to invoke the lyrical simplicity of Johnson’s own writings. There’s a clue here in who the true narrator is of the comic – a revelation that comes in the final page’s glory of excess and debauchery.

However, as good as Dupont’s writing style may be, the true artist-supreme of the book is Mezzo, who’s scratchy, stark black and white illustrations illuminate each and every wide-screen vista. Where Dupont’s writing might skip on some of the psychological ramifications of Johnson’s costly lifestyle, in Mezzo’s artwork the costs are writ clear on Johnson’s tortured face. He might be portrayed as debauched and amoral, but Mezzo imbues his illustrations with the secret, silent suffering that Johnson endured through all his trials. No illustration communicates this more than a scene set just after Johnson has buried his wife and child. Mezzo’s illustration invokes Bertolt Brecht’s silent scream – a howl of pain that cannot be uttered for fear of revenge from a force beyond your comprehension. It’s a howl of pain that carries throughout all of Johnson’s bleakly nihilistic music. It’s a howl that his many imitators have crafted into the very bones of all contemporary music, from hip-hop to rock.

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Hahnenberger’s translation reads: Some would say that God made Robert suffer to test his faith. I’m not so sure – I think he knew that this lamb was a wrong ‘un, and so he struck him down and cast him out of the flock.

There are few faults that one can find in Dupont and Mezzo’s extraordinary exploration of the life of Robert Johnson. I can only say I finished this comic wanting to know more – it’s brevity is both it’s success and it’s failure. I suppose it corresponds to the general lack of information regarding Robert Johnson’s life and death; the mists of time have obscured him forever beyond our reach. To extend the page length, Mezzo provides an illustrated song book, setting a few of Johnson’s lyrics alongside some murky charcoal portraits. His illustrations evoke the lyrics brilliant way. Ultimately, this graphic novel ranks among the best artistic expeditions into the life of Robert Johnson. You’d be a sucker to miss it out.

10/10.