Violent Rhetoric, Then and Now

By Megan McArdle

Henry Farrell writes:


Megan McArdle 2010 vintage

I thought it was pretty creepy when Jon Chait described another liberal journalist, Michael Kinsley, another journalist, as "curb stomping" economist Greg Mankiw for, yes, daring to suggest that higher marginal tax rates might have incentive effects. Woo-hoo! But why stop with curb-stomping? Wouldn't it be fun to pile ten-thousand gleaming skulls of supply-siders outside the Heritage Offices? We could mount Art Laffer's head on a rotating musical pike that plays The Stars and Stripes Forever! Then, in the most hilarious surprise ending of all, the mob could turn on Jon Chait, douse him with gasoline and set him on fire, and then sack the offices of the New Republic!

Megan McArdle 2003 vintage

So I was chatting about this with a friend of mine, a propos of the fact that everyone I know in New York is a) more frightened than they've been since mid-September 2001 and b) madly working on keeping up the who-the-hell-caresif -Iget-hit-by-a-truck? insouciance that New Yorkers feel is their sole civic obligation. Said friend was, two short years ago, an avowed pacifist and also a little bit to the left of Ho Chi Minh. And do you know what he said? "Bring it on."
I can't be mad at these little dweebs. I'm too busy laughing. And I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it's applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.

I'm afraid I'm not quite bright enough to understand why kerb-stomping-as-a-metaphor for-argumentative-victory is creepy and unfunny, while actually beating up war-protesters with bits of lumber is hee-LAIRIUS. Perhaps someone can tease out the nuances for me in comments.

One of his commenters notes: "Looks like McArdle used her time machine to respond to this post a couple of years ago."  Like so many of his students, Henry's problem isn't that he isn't bright; it's that he doesn't do his homework thoroughly.

Indeed, Henry Farrell's response is exactly what I was talking about; maybe that's why it rubbed him the wrong way.  Did it engage with an argument?  No it did not.  It was the opposite of charitable, because its point wasn't to investigate the question; it was to make me look foolish.  Naturally, therefore, Henry gathered only information that made me look bad, rather than checking to see whether there was any disconfirming evidence out there.

Below the fold, the entirety of that post from several years ago; you can decide for yourself which one of us has been selective in their reading of the other side.


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I suspect that I shall spend the rest of my life being pursued by lefty bloggers who think that linking this six year old post is a substitute for argument. Nonetheless, it occurs to me that while I have repeatedly dealt with it in various places, I probably haven't here. So here's the deal. I'm going to talk about it now, because it was, frankly, a pretty stupid thing to write, and mea culpas are good for the soul. Then I'm never going to talk about it again. I have yet to see anyone deploy it against me who could even vaguely be accused of acting in good faith. On the other hand, there are readers in good faith who are surprised by it, and I think I owe them an explanation.

I first reproduce the entire thing, so that there will be absolutely no question about its contents. This is not difficult, because the entire thing is only about 100 words long, but I do understand that space may be limited on other minds blogs.

Diane E. has a link seeming to indicate that the scruffier element of Saturday's peace rally is planning on demonstrating for peace by, er, wreaking mayhem. Nothing says "Stop the Madness of Western Imperialism" like a white college student from Winnetka opening a can of whup-ass on some Korean vegetable stand! 

So I was chatting about this with a friend of mine, a propos of the fact that everyone I know in New York is a) more frightened than they've been since mid-September 2001 and b) madly working on keeping up the who-the-hell-cares-if-I-get-hit-by-a-truck? insouciance that New Yorkers feel is their sole civic obligation. Said friend was, two short years ago, an avowed pacifist and also a little bit to the left of Ho Chi Minh. And do you know what he said? "Bring it on."

I can't be mad at these little dweebs. I'm too busy laughing. And I think some in New York are going to laugh even harder when they try to unleash some civil disobedience, Lenin style, and some New Yorker who understands the horrors of war all too well picks up a two-by-four and teaches them how very effective violence can be when it's applied in a firm, pre-emptive manner.


Starting with a little bit of context: Diane E. wrote the sadly now defunct Letter from Gotham blog. Though her politics--indeed, like mine--changed in those first few post 9/11 years, I think it's safe to say that she would have a very pungent reaction to anyone calling her a neo-con loving warblogger. The post is now gone, but any of the libertarian antiwar bloggers should be happy to confirm that Diane E. was not a rumormongering warhorse who hated peace. The post was written in response to a credible belief that there were antiwar protesters who thought it would be fun to get a little WTO on New York.

Thankfully, this turned out to be a false rumor. That said, I still shouldn't have written what I did.

Not because I'm particularly sympathetic to rioters--which is what people who think it would be fun to turn a peaceful protest into a violent scene are. The proper response to such people is to restrain them, by violent force if necessary. I certainly hope that if I were standing behind such people at a protest, I would have the physical courage to jump on them and use my 140 pounds of bony mass to wrestle them to the ground.

(As an aside, I note that riots certainly aren't necessarily the fault of the protesters--I was at an ACT-UP die-in in Philadelphia around 1991 that turned violent because the coffin some of the protesters were carrying tipped over onto the barricades, and Philly's trigger-happy police interpreted this as an attack. Needless to say, we were the ones who got beat on, not them. I mean "we" only in solidarity--the police tended to focus on the folks with the nose rings and the purple hair. Sadly, I had neither the physical courage nor the devil-may-care attitude towards the law that would have allowed me to use my 130 pounds of bony mass to wrestle a baton-wielding cop to the ground. I made like a two dollar bill and got scarce.)

I shouldn't have written it because even if whacking a rioter in the head is necessary to stop the riot, it's not funny. It's not funny even when the rioter is a total scumwrangler who is deliberately wreaking mayhem--any more than it is ever funny when a thoroughly repulsive criminal gets raped in prison. To the extent that either the state or private citizens are forced to use violence to prevent violence, it should always be more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger. This is not amusing.

Why did I write it? In part, because blogging was a new medium for the warbloggers, and many of us had an unfortunate tendency to say the kind of ridiculous things that one says without meaning them at bars in 3 am, except in print where everyone can enjoy them forever. If you've ever declared that people who jump queues should be shot, you have some sense of what I mean.

And I was young, and lots of things seem inappropriately funny when you're young--in your mid-twenties, empathy is often largely theoretical. This is perhaps the only good thing about aging.

And also because I'm a lifelong New Yorker who lost a lot of people in the towers, including the first boy I dated in college, and I'd just finished up working at Ground Zero, aka The Pit. I was more than a tad overemotional at the thought of my city getting another dose of random ideological violence. Though again, that's not an excuse. Only an explanation. Looking backward, I wish I hadn't let those emotions rule so many of my opinions so thoroughly.

So I shouldn't have written it, full stop. No excuses. But the way it's used in the blogosphere is, for want of a better word, pathetic. Those who link it never, ever mention that it referred to violent protesters, even when they have to do some exceptionally creative editing to avoid that fairly central fact. Indeed, they often explicitly state that it referred to peaceful protesters, even though there is no possible reasonable reading of that post which interprets it as randomly exhorting violence against people who were lawfully marching in protest of the war. I have been a peaceful protester, though obviously not against this war. Moreover, my boyfriend at the time was a peaceful anti-war protester; I can assure you that I didn't want him damaged, and since the relationship continued for years afterwards, I'm pretty sure he didn't think so either.

That post is supposed to impugn my character. What does it say that the people who link it are invariably either outright lying, or deliberately misleading inflicting creative omissions on their readers?

But fair is fair--it's legitimate to judge people on what they write, and for better or for worst that post, and for that matter this one, do say something about my character. What, you'll have to decide for yourself.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/10/violent-rhetoric-then-and-now/65122/