Is there a point at which violence is the only way to enact change and defend one’s self? How does one recognize that point?

I’m on record as being skeptical of the wisdom of the left rising up with guns and assassinating the twenty people behind climate change and actually factually rioting, mostly because I just don’t think it’ll work. But at the same time, I completely understand the helplessness and frustration that can drive someone to conclude the opposite. (Here are two social media posts whose content and interactive commentary have brought this to the forefront of my mind.)

So these impulses struggle with each other, mainly because I myself am a nonviolent person who can’t imagine monkeywrenching or revolting. But I also don’t feel that I can judge those who do, which sets up a conflict in my mind, especially since I must have a nonzero hope that reform is actually possible (which also informs my reaction to stuff like “defund the police,” for similar reasons).

So I ask y’all: is there a point at which the folks I have this visceral disagreement with are right? I feel like there must be. If there is, how does one tell when that is? After all, smart authoritarians are known to take action to try to muddy that point as much as possible, and the stakes, right or wrong, are significant for everyone. It’s a tough question I’ve been pondering for a while, so I bring it to everyone here at large.

A priest of your tribe with authority and charisma will tell you when to go full baboon.

The only answer I can think of is, I’ll know it when I know it - but how to measure the potential downsides of alternative courses of action?

I’m of a basically cautious and pacific nature, and armed revolt/assassinations/terror tactics seem to me pointlessly counter-productive in a democracy ruled by law.

That’s the thing. And it goes for both sides. If you create an environment where assassinations, terror tactics, and riots are acceptable whenever you don’t like a candidate, court ruling, policy change, then it’s not a democracy ruled by law. What you basically have is a failed state ruled by might makes right.

Indeed. And then it becomes a question of “how do we create and sustain a space with our own democratic rule of law rather than simply demonstrative/performative acts of violent resistance”?

To which history gives mixed answers.

I think that something really egregious would have to happen, something that made it clear there was no longer a way to preserve democracy through the current institutions. I mean something really crazy like the spouse of one of a Supreme Court justice openly participated in a coup, but we’re not there yet.

Yes, but if you start off with a situation where it is no longer democracy ruled by law, but instead a failed state where the minority rules the majority, then non-violent means stop being very effective.

Part of being a democracy is to accept when you’ve lost, and the other part is to stand up against those who would subvert it.

Even if that were to happen, you’d also need something like people actually trying to violently overthrow the government. Or something like states planning on overriding the votes of the people in elections. I mean, if that were to happen, that would be direct evidence that voting is no longer a viable method for enacting change.

Well, that right there is pretty much much my red line. Consider these two posts:

Sure, we all know what they wanted to do last time, and are hoping to do next time. But the point remains: the system still worked. Slowly, inefficiently, noisy and smoking all the while, but it worked. The actual votes were counted, the police kept the rioters from killing any elected officials, and the military didn’t roll in and wipe out everyone on behalf of a loser candidate.

When that actually stops working is the time to fight. When a loser candidate takes office, or refuses to leave office, in spite of how the system is supposed to work, and no one else in the system is willing and able to stop that, then it’s time to fight.

Because the cost of fighting, even if we win, is going to be stupidly high. I don’t want to incur that cost unless I’m absolutely sure that it’s necessary.

Those on the Left making big talk about espousing violence should remember two things: the Right is generally better at it, and they have more guns.

You can look at most of the history of civilization as a struggle between the powerful trying to exploit the masses as much as they can, until they push too much and it snaps back the other way and the masses rise up and overthrow, kill, or otherwise resist this and put real fear in the hearts of the exploiters.

Take a look at FDR a little cynically. He was a rich man that came from the aristocratic class, yet created a lot of reforms that helped the common person at the expense of the rich. He was viewed by many rich of the time as a class traitor for that. But what FDR saw was a period where the excesses of the rich made life quite difficult for regular people and that we were potentially looking at one of those historical “snap back” moments.

Preceding him was massive income inequality matched only by the robber baron era, and only exceeded … by today. As tends to happen, when those with the most got too greedy, society started to collapse. The Roarin’ 20s led to the great depression. The zeitgeist of the era seemed to indicate that international socialism might actually gain a real foothold around the world, and as impossible as it might seem now, the US might have rebelled against the conditions that lead to the great depression by embracing it.

So if you were inclined to read FDR’s intentions cynically, you might read the New Deal as a pressure relief valve. To make things better for the average person to the degree that they could avoid the backlash which would topple the current power structure. Sure, the rich had to give up some of their wealth - and this was not a small matter, they almost executed a coup against him - but in doing so, they’d avoid the worst of the backlash and maintain the traditional power structure in the US.

As I mentioned, inequality now is worse than it was during the Roarin’ 20s. Millenials and Gen Z will be the first American generations that does worse than their parents financially. And why? There was no great war, no great catastrophe. The world is more peaceful and prosperous than it has ever been. There’s more wealth to share than there has ever been, even as the average person has less and less of it. Things that were considered basic staples of American life are falling further out of reach - education, access to medicine, home ownership, and more recently, even being able to pay your own rent.

It’s a cycle. The greed of the powerful always resurfaces. They try to take more and more until people have had enough, and push back. The only thing that keeps those in power in most countries giving any sort of concessions to those below them - to reel in their greed and help improve things for the average person - is the fear that what happened to Louis XIV could happen to them.

The “economic elite” have completely captured both parties in the US. Study and journalistic write up. Even before the current conservative coup that will very likely be successful, democracy in the US was already a bit of a farce. Elections are real (this is likely coming to an end), but almost irrelevant to policy in as far as it concerns the balance of power between the rich and the regular people.

It has been quite a long time since the American people have engaged in significant civil disobedience (the George Floyd protests might be the only significant event since the civil rights conflict of the 60s) and the rich and powerful are overconfident that they can keep pushing us - keep getting even greedier - until they have everything. And so far they’re right, they’ve faced no significant resistance. They think they can achieve that end through controlling our media to control us. They might be right. We’re in uncharted territory. It doesn’t usually go this far before there’s that backlash.

The creation of Fox News and that whole echo chamber - conservative talk radio, think tanks, chain e-mails, twitter bots, the whole deal - was basically designed to create unthinking obedience, even when acting against their own interest, of a significant, very politically active minority in the US. And they’ve done an incredible job of it. These are the people who will fight to the death to cut their own food stamps and medicare, who were basically made into a ready to hijack cult when Trump came along. The people who are willing to fight the hardest against taxation or any other social policy that benefits the average person at the expense of the rich are people who have essentially been brainwashed into being passionately against their own interests. The rich and powerful devised this plan as a way to maintaining a complete control in a nominal democracy and enact policies that hurt almost every American to the benefit of a very tiny few and it has created a level of cult-like obedience to a degree that I think exceeded their wildest dreams.

Our history has also been whitewashed. Things we take for granted today, like unions, worker protections, and civil rights, were paid for in blood. They were brought about by violence and the threat of violence. But the vast majority of Americans don’t know those stories. They instead only highlight the non-violent part of those changes. They tell us, for example, that black people were granted legal status as first class citizens purely because Martin Luther King made some nice speeches and asked real nicely for white people to respect them. They downplay the violence and threat of violence that made them worry about the stability of society and their place on top of it. They’ve convinced us that “violence is never the answer” and washed that that out of even potentially being part of the discussion, because they know that’s one of the few tools that the rest of us have to push back when they’ve exploited us too much. That sort of framing is affecting almost all of you, who are probably uncomfortable reading me talk about violence as one of the only ways to fight back against those who would exploit us because the idea of violence being a legitimate tool in the face of injustice has been completely invalidated in your mind as a thought that a reasonable and decent person can have. That’s exactly the sort of control I’m talking about.

Non-participation can work too - the threat of general strikes and non-compliance can threaten their income, and so they’d listen to that, too, but they’ve also effectively controlled that. Over 90% of media in the US is owned by the same 6 giant conglomerates. If there were burgeoning efforts to have general strikes to increase the living condition for the average person, do you think these corporate owned news sources would spread the news to make people aware of those? Really?

You could say that the internet can get around the stranglehold that the powerful have over traditional media, but that’s becoming increasingly less true, too. A lot of you were around 15 or 20 years ago, when the internet was a wild west full of a million different places and ideas. It’s increasingly becoming 5 or 6 big websites that control everyone’s experience. They wield an incredible amount of power through their editorial decisions, their decisions to allow disinformation, their choice to steer people towards right wing radicalization, etc. We’ve basically taken the promise out of the internet and voluntarily made it another place where a few entities can control the acceptable range of discussion as a society, just like traditional media has become.

The rich and powerful allow us to fight over issues that they don’t give a shit about, like guns and abortion and religion and racism while they hope they don’t notice that no one has been allowed to make a policy that benefits the economic interests of the average person over the rich in many decades, while they rape our planet and post an existential threat to human civilization so they can get their wealth high score up a little higher before they die. They love it when we squabble about these things as it gives us the illusion that we’re in control while they exploit us.

We are already pretty far past the point where that traditional pushback of the masses against the elites would’ve happened. Our policies are so greedy that people are having a hard time surviving in a peaceful, prosperous world. It seems pretty clear that improving the lives of the vast majority of us is not in the cards, that maximum greed is going to be pressed until things fall apart. As demonstrated in the aforementioned studies and through observation and common sense, voting isn’t going to get us there, and widescale non-compliance is likely not in the cards, either.

Given that, and given the never-ending cycle of greed and exploitation while our lives get worse in the richest, most peaceful period in world history, what options are left to make our lives better, and to get our share of that prosperity?

I know right? Or something really nuts like the Supreme Court dismantling civil rights era protections to ensure that black people have access to the ballot box and then southern states immediately making it harder for them to vote, I mean real third world kind of stuff.

You just know someone said this in Germany when the Beer Hall Putsch failed.

The OP makes an equivalency between monkeywrenching and actual violence that I don’t agree with. I am an absolute pacifist, but have no moral qualms about inflicting structural damage should the political situation warrant it.

I’m generally in favor of political violence to right a great wrong, whether the society has some form of democracy or not, and to secure freedom when it is being denied by the government.

I look to someone like John Brown as a hero–the tragedy of John Brown is his rebellion mostly just killed a few innocent people in his quest to secure an armory, and it would have been better had his men massacred as many planter families as possible. John Brown had no chance of success, and that means his rebellion may not have been wise, but it was righteous and morally appropriate as a response to slavery–no level of killing is inappropriate to try and free people from chattel slavery.

True, but even then, I’d say that hoping we could fix it without violence was still a reasonable bet.

Take a look at what’s happening in Ukraine right now. Even a half-assed military with shitty equipment can kill thousands of people a week, utterly destroy infrastructure, and disrupt supply chains sufficiently that starvation is a serious possibility.

Now imagine that happening in the US right now. If even 10% of the US military rebelled (either for or against a coup, it really doesn’t matter), the war that would result would devastate large parts of the country. Even a 1% chance of avoiding that level of destruction is worth it. Because even if The Good Guys win, you’re still living in a ruined city in a ruined State in a ruined Nation, wondering if you’ll eat this week.

Personally, I think America is irredeemably corrupt and irredeemably racist and I think the best thing for the world is if we collapse quickly before we do more harm. Ideally, I’d like to see a managed dissolution, I just don’t think that red state American culture has the capacity to be a modern democracy and much like in Afghanistan, we need to cut our losses.

It took some damage, and the enemies of that system know where the cracks are. That it held up, barely, this time, should be no comfort that it will hold up to the next assault upon it. The gates of Minas Tirith were not breached from the first hit from the battering ram.

I don’t think that anyone wins in that situation. However, it may be necessary to prevent losing everything.

Meh, they are certainly bigger bullies, and they are more want to threaten violence, but using it effectively to bring about change, I wouldn’t agree that they are better at it at all, and no matter how many guns some right wing nutter has, he still only has two hands.

Well, that’s kinda the entire point. If all of us who are questioning the scraps that we are left with after the greedy have taken their share rose up, they’d have no way to combat us. Instead, we fight amongst ourselves over the scraps, with social issues used as a wedge to make us view each other with suspicion rather than cooperation.

Take a room with 10 people in it, and give them enough food for 5, making them fight over it. They may decide to work together and ambush you, unless you give them reason for them to fear and hate eachother.

Yes, and that’s why I don’t rule out violence entirely. As I said, my line is that democracy clearly, unambiguously fails to function. But the US hasn’t crossed that line yet. Sure, it might do it soon, but it might not.

Once you roll the dice on a civil war, you can’t un-roll them. And none of us can say with any certainly what will happen in such a war, except that, Win, Lose, or Draw, it will cost a whole lot of blood and treasure.

And the worst of it is, the people doing the fighting will be fighting others doing the fighting, and those who actually created the conditions that lead to all this fighting will find a way to profit off of it.