Democratic Underground

The Argument
October 18, 2001
By Morris Smith

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I know you've seen it. On a message board, in an email... it's the "argument" conservatives are supposed to use against liberals to illustrate why the use of force is necessary.

It usually goes something like this:

1. Approach student talking about 'peace' and saying there should be, 'no retaliation.'

2. Engage in brief conversation, ask if military force is appropriate.

3. When he says, "No," ask, "Why not?"

4. Wait until he says something to the effect of, 'Because that would just cause more innocent deaths, which would be awful and we should not cause more violence.'

5. When he's in mid sentence, punch him in the face as hard as you can.

6. When he gets back up to punch you, point out that it would be a mistake and contrary to his values to strike you, because that would, 'be awful and he should not cause more violence.'

7. Wait until he agrees that he has pledged not to commit additional violence.

8. Punch him in the face again, harder this time.

Repeat steps 5 through 8 until they understand that sometimes it is necessary to punch back.

Typical. It betrays the conservative notion that might makes right, that if someone doesn't agree with you, you have a right to pummel him until he does. Forget reason, forget logic, just beat the hell out of them until they see the light.

The "argument" has plenty of support on the right, mostly because it is purported to teach the liberal a lesson about the real world, and allow them to beat him down at the same time. It's a conservative dream come true.

Except for one thing. What if it doesn't actually work?

After all, let's remember that this mentality is not new on the right. Bull Connor based his entire strategy on the idea that Blacks wouldn't be able to keep taking it. Surely the next dog mauling, surely the next spray of the firehose, surely the next brutalization would make them see reason. Surely the next beat down will be the last. Then they'll go away and we won't hear from them again. There was only one problem.

They didn't go away.

Connor found that he literally could not hit Blacks hard enough to keep them down. He discovered that the more brutal and vicious he became, the more determined they were to gain their rights. He discovered that, in the end, with all of the force at his disposal, with all of his dogs, fire hoses, nightsticks, guns, and lynchings, he was still powerless. He was still beaten by people with nothing but their determination and an unshakable faith in their belief.

And he discovered something else. In the end, he was the monster. He was the bad guy. He had to wake up every morning and realize that he was committing unspeakable evil on a daily basis against people who had done nothing to him. He had to recognize that he had become a petty, pathetic shell, an officer with only the shape of a man, but with no humanity to go with it.

It was a hard lesson to learn, and a high price to pay to learn it.

But some lessons must be taught over and over. And, in truth, part of the reason that the conservative "argument" is so successful is that adhering to a policy of non-violence is often very hard. It is a difficult thing not to fight back as someone takes advantage of you and hard not to sink to their level. It's a question that I personally struggle with. But I do struggle with it, because I know itís a struggle worth waging.

To illustrate, let's take another look at the conservative "argument."

1. Conservative approaches student talking about peace and saying there should be no retaliation.

2. Conservative engages in brief conversation, asks if military force is appropriate.

3. Student says, "No." Conservative asks, "Why not?"

4. Student says something to the effect of, 'Because that would just cause more innocent deaths, which would be awful and we should not cause more violence.'

5. When student is in mid sentence, conservative punches him in the face as hard as he can.

6. Student gets back up and says, "I'm sorry you feel the need to hit me to get me to agree with your point of view, but I maintain that violence only produces more violence."

7. Conservative punches student in the face again, harder this time.

8. Steps 6 and 7 repeat as many times as necessary.

9. Conservative finally gets it through his puny little brain that violence, indeed does not work.

10. Conservative further realizes that, in trying to coerce student through violence that he himself has become Osama bin Laden.

11. Conservative slinks away distraught, his entire worldview shattered.

That is the life-changing power that is ours for the taking. That is what can be accomplished by looking at the world through a different lens.

That, my friends, is the power of non-violence.

(Inspired by a tagline seen on the DemocraticUnderground website: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they hate you, then they fight you, then you win." - Gandhi)

Morris Smith is editor of