Monday, February 23, 2009

"You can't use force!"

Red Eye's TV's Andy Levy tweeted about this footage of the final minutes of occupation of New York University's Kimmel building, wherein some delusional "useful idiots" come up against cruel reality.

These guys were agitating for scholarships for Palestinian terroristsstudents--and oh, by the way, "tuition stabilization". You know, that perfect mix of social activism combined with a healthy dollop of self-interest which gave us the draft riots of the '60s. (You can read the full list of demands here.)

The funny thing, though, is expressed by the notion that, somehow, the authorities are not allowed to use force, and the indignation of some of the protesters when they do. But of course that is what authority is, in this sense of the word: The right to use force to create conformity with social rules.

And a fair amount of force was used in the '60s demonstrations that all subsequent protests seem to be modeled after. The whole concept of civil disobedience, in fact, is based on the premise that you can embarrass authority by forcing them to apply their power in the service of the blatantly unethical.

Hence the brilliance of an act like Rosa Parks sitting at the front of the bus. The awesome power of the state was used to punish a middle-aged working woman for sitting in an empty seat.

Rocket scientist/protest ringleader Alex Lotorto says (in the comment thread with the footage):

And by the way, my camera was a mechanism that probably prevented brutality like happened at New School in December where they weren’t on top of that as much…the black trench coat guy threw me an elbow and I was trying to keep a level head as people were panicking…the rest of the negotiations absolve me…I’m going to post those soon for you to poo poo.

Two things, Alex: First, your camera would have been confiscated and wiped if this were the fascist police state you imagine; second, the whole point--the raison d'etre, if you will--of civil resistance is to show up the authority's reliance on violence.

If no one had bothered Rosa Parks, it would not have been the catalytic event for Civil Rights.

But, see, it's morally abhorrent to segregate the races. And most people could particularly see that in a situation where a 40-plus working woman is required to stand. The absurdity is marked, and it makes a civilized person feel shame.

There's a scene in David Lean's Gandhi where Mahatma has Indians lining up to be beaten by the British. It's so awful, you actually feel sorry for the British having to do this. That's the point, really: The State is faceless and hungry for power, but it's made up of humans with a sense of right and wrong. It's those humans you address, even while being chewed up by the machine that is The State.

From the outside, you all look like a bunch of spoiled brats agitating about things you have no understanding of, with murky goals in mind, and some idea that The Man is going to roll over because you, what, exactly? Illegally occupied a building under the delusion that force couldn't (and wouldn't) be used to restore the building to its owners?

From a purely practical standpoint, you have a PR problem.

Also, it's a bad idea to mix themes: You want to have some sort of financial input, apparently, okay. Most people would argue you're not competent to have it, but maybe you can find a base there.

But throw in the terrorist love, and you're going to lose some part of your base that agrees with your financial demands. Vice-versa, too, although I suspect that those who support Gaza don't really care whether your financial demands would run the school into the ground.

The real problem is that you fail completely to demonstrate what moral wrong is being committed that validates your approach. I mean, you broke the law, and for what? Is it really and truly the case that all legitimate approaches for change were exhausted?

For a little while now, and for a little while longer, we've had a free-ish economy that allows you to purchase services from people you approve of, and not from those you don't. This, in turn, allows you to protest in the most devastating way possible: By not giving money to people you don't like.

We've also had (for a little while now, and for a little while longer) free-ish speech, which means you can encourage others to join your boycott.

If this doesn't work, consider that maybe your hobby horse isn't as important as you think it is.

But if your conscience tells you to take that extra step, committing what is, in essence, criminal acts, don't be surprised if force is used--and people approve.


  1. Oh, that was excellent, Blake. Indeed.

  2. Hey Blake. Just wanted to say, that if you can't see the connection between socially responsible investing of $2.5 billion and the war industry, particularly in relation to Israel's bombing of Gaza, then maybe you should attempt some critical thinking on war profiteering.

    And we didn't support terrorism, which I wrote somewhere on that gossip, Juicy Campus site NYU Local. We were asking for what economists call 'in kind' aid to Gazan students--books and computers, earmarked scholarships for books, transportation, and housing.

    If you know how to make a Qassam rocket out of a book and an old hard drive, you should get on that patent and apply for Lockheed Martin's engineering dept.

    Students in Gaza have lost access to their education because part of our tuition paid for the bombs that destroyed their university. Check your racism.

  3. Ooh! The race card!

    Alex, it might surprise you to know that I am, in fact, Palestinian.

    It would surprise me to know, too, because, actually, I'm not. (As far as I know. I might be, come to think of it.)

    Enough snark (for now). Let me ask you a serious question: If you give scholarships to Palestinian "students", what are the odds that one of them is going to turn out to be a future terrorist? (I suggest you check the backgrounds of other famous terrorists before answering.)

    I contend that you're supporting terrorism whether you know it or not, hence the "useful idiot" tag.

    You know what would happen if the Israelis tried your passive resistance type stunt with the Palestinians? They'd all be dead.

    But I suppose you'd have them continue to simply accept whatever the Palestinians can launch at them.

    Students in Gaza have lost access to their education because they can't stop hating long enough to love their children.

    Check your anti-semitism.

  4. Students in Gaza have lost access to their education because they can't stop hating long enough to love their children.

    That is, students have lost access because Palestinians can't stop hating.

  5. Alex, does NYU have an address where I could send more money to Israel? I would like the money to be specifically earmarked to buy weapons.

    As Israel has tried to make peace over and over and over only to be attacked by terrorists, I think it's time that they just settled it, and not with another one-sided treaty. Perhaps the students can find new universities in other countries once they're expelled from Gaza forever.

  6. I think a general consensus can be drawn that Alex Lotorto is basically the very definition of a modern 'useful idiot'. But then, I think that about most every Apple fanboy (we do use a democratic consensus process at this blog, don't we?).

    I think the American system of higher education (especially at the more expensive end) should adopt this collective slogan

    "Turning big fat pussies into even bigger fatter pussies (now saddled with huge debt and no discernable work skills)"

  7. But they're oh so socially conscious!


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