Can mere words be aggression?

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Hogeye 1 week, 2 days ago.

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  • #1020

    Hogeye
    Participant

    Do you understand what aggression is? This test should be trivial for voluntaryists.

    Mr. A said “nigger, nigger, nigger” to Mr. B. Mr. B. punched Mr. A in the nose. Who is the aggressor?

    (It seems silly to bring this up, but recently a self-described voluntaryist tried to argue that mere words constituted aggression.)

  • #1021

    Hogeye
    Participant

    I cross-posted the message above to Facebook … and got banned for another 30 days. Fuck’em! I think I’ll go for a permanent ban after that one’s up. I pride myself in getting banned from stick-up-their-ass forums.

  • #1039

    Jacob
    Keymaster

    You pose multiple questions, so I’ll try to address them in turn.

    Can mere words be aggression?

    Yes, they definitely can. Aggression includes both initiation of force and the threat of initiatory force. Thus, for example, if Mr. A tells Mr. B that they are going to kill them, (and they are serious,) and then Mr. B shoots Mr. A, then Mr. A is the aggressor and Mr. B the defender, even though Mr. A never engaged in physical force, only threatened to do so.

    Do you understand what aggression is? This test should be trivial for voluntaryists.

    Aggression is just offensive/initiatory force/coercion, or the threat thereof. The specifics require a whole lot of other philosophical scaffolding, such as conceptions of property and consent, as I think you agree.

    Mr. A said “nigger, nigger, nigger” to Mr. B. Mr. B. punched Mr. A in the nose. Who is the aggressor?

    This depends on the context. In a culture where it is socially acceptable or expected for white people to kill African Americans, (perhaps the southern U.S. during some of the 1800s?) without provocation, and where whites regularly lynch or otherwise kill blacks and where, before doing so, they hurl epithets like “nigger” at their victims, a black person could reasonably infer, if someone approaches them and starts calling them a “nigger,” that the person intends to kill them, in which case the epithet could become a threat and thus count as aggression.

    In the U.S. today slurs like “nigger” or “tranny” would not usually count as aggression, by themselves, I would say. (By the stipulative understanding of “aggression” used by libertarians, of course.) There may be some contexts where they could be reasonably interpreted as threats, but I think it would be something we’d have to judge on a case-by-case basis.

  • #1060

    Hogeye
    Participant

    Despite you answering “yes” to “Can mere words be aggression,” your answer was actually: No, mere words cannot be aggression. It takes some additional factors such as a true threat. I think we agree here, although you answered as if the word “mere” were not there.

    >Mr. A said “nigger, nigger, nigger” to Mr. B. Mr. B. punched Mr. A in the nose. Who is the aggressor?

    You answer “that depends on the context,” yet then only give reasons why someone would feel fear, not why an act might be aggression. So to me you miss the point. I do not dispute that people sometimes feel fear. But fear is irrelevant to aggression. It creates a weird sort of counter-example scenario, that whether action X is aggression does not depend on the act itself, nor the intention of the actor, but instead depends on the feelings and historical knowledge of the alleged victim.

    Imagine this scenario. Alice says “hi” to Betty. Betty shoots Alice. Betty comes from a culture where “hi” was used as a belligerent expression, and is known to have been used by soldiers and others during ethnic cleansing in Betty’s home country. Betty was very fearful! But to me Alice did not commit aggression, and the notion that subjective feelings of Betty transforms a peacful act into aggression seems ridiculous.

    Perhaps fear might reduce the moral culpability of aggressors like Mr. B or Betty, but such “feels” do not transform a peaceful action into aggression.

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  Hogeye.
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  Hogeye.
    • This reply was modified 1 week, 4 days ago by  Hogeye.
  • #1065

    Jacob
    Keymaster

    Despite you answering “yes” to “Can mere words be aggression,” your answer was actually: No, mere words cannot be aggression. It takes some additional factors such as a true threat. I think we agree here, although you answered as if the word “mere” were not there.

    I interpreted you as distinguishing words from physical violence or other sorts of coercion, rather than non-threatening words from threatening words, with your usage of the phrase “mere words.” This was why I answered as I did.

    You answer “that depends on the context,” yet then only give reasons why someone would feel fear, not why an act might be aggression. So to me you miss the point. I do not dispute that people sometimes feel fear. But fear is irrelevant to aggression. It creates a weird sort of counter-example scenario, that whether action X is aggression does not depend on the act itself, nor the intention of the actor, but instead depends on the feelings and historical knowledge of the alleged victim.

    It depends on all of these things. Threats are part of language and communication, and when people communicate both the speaker and the listener have roles to play in interpreting the meaning of what is said or otherwise conveyed.

    In the case of threats, speakers have incentives to lie about their own intentions and the meaning of what they say. They can make threats towards others, yet, when others object to their threats, they can try to argue that they were “only kidding,” that they meant something different, or similar.

    My suggestion, here, is that listeners have a role to play in interpretation. If listeners believe they are being threatened, they defend themselves through coercion, and the speakers try to argue that they weren’t really making a true threat, in some cases I would take the side of the listener. The meaning of words and other sorts of language, (body language, sirens and flashing lights on cop cars, symbols and so forth,) does, indeed, depend in part on the context and on the experiences of listeners.

    Were we to adopt a principle that the meaning of communicative actions was entirely up to the interpretation of the speaker rather than the listener, I would be afraid that many people would refuse to associate with us or cooperate with us on the grounds that by the time we agreed they were being threatened and supported them in acts of self-defense it would be too late and the aggressors would have moved from threats to physical violence. Or, alternatively, even if the aggressors never moved from threatening words to physical violence, the victims might be coerced in all sorts of ways, being scared of the threats and having no recourse since they live in a community in which the threats are not recognized. Further, I myself would fear that others would make such threats and that my community would brush them off as not “true” threats.

    There are cases where listeners who interpret a great many things as threats could lose out on an ability to interact with others to their own benefit, but for many people, (especially people in marginalized groups such as transgender individuals, gay or bisexual individuals, blacks, etc.) the loss could be worth it. If the danger others pose to them is great, (as it is for members of these groups,) then they have strong reasons to err on the side of self-defense, ostracism, or in some other way interpreting possible threats as true threats. If they try to brush off things like you do, they could end up dead.

    Imagine this scenario. Alice says “hi” to Betty. Betty shoots Alice. Betty comes from a culture where “hi” was used as a belligerent expression, and is known to have been used by soldiers and others during ethnic cleansing in Betty’s home country. Betty was very fearful! But to me Alice did not commit aggression, and the notion that subjective feelings of Betty transforms a peacful act into aggression seems ridiculous.

    Perhaps fear might reduce the moral culpability of aggressors like Mr. B or Betty, but such “feels” do not transform a peaceful action into aggression.

    In your scenario, you seem to imply that Alice comes from a different culture than Betty, and that both Alice and Betty are mostly ignorant of each other’s respective cultures. If Alice were 100% ignorant of how Betty would interpret her greeting, I would not regard her as an aggressor.

    However, in our society today, people in the sorts of marginalized groups I mentioned make abundantly clear on a regular and ongoing basis that various things bother them and that they interpret things in various ways. Say that Betty posts a sign next to her mailbox saying, in plain English that Alice can and does understand, that as far as she is concerned the word “Hi” is a threat of violence, and that she will kill anyone who insists on saying it to her. Alice, for whatever reason, is traveling by her house, sees, reads, and understands the sign, and, when Betty comes out to check her mail, says “Hi” to Betty. Then Betty shoots her. In this case, I would sympathize less with Alice than in your scenario.

    A couple other changes would, I think, bring the thought-experiment closer still to the real world. For example, say that Alice says “Hi” not once, but on many occasions, to Betty. Say she wears the word on her hat while traveling by Betty’s house. Say Betty tries to talk with her and persuade her to stop, and Alice ridicules and makes fun of her and makes a point of continuing her behavior despite her request. Further, say that some people from Betty’s culture make there way to the society where Betty and Alice presently live, and Alice begins associating openly with those other from Betty’s culture. Say that these newcomers from Betty’s culture are some of those who engaged in the ethnic cleansing you mentioned. Say Alice tries to use Betty’s fear to manipulate her and exploit her in some way, for example making a point of saying “Hi” whenever she and Betty have some sort of dispute, in an attempt to get Betty to give in to her demands.

    There’s a threshold problem here, in my opinion, but you seem to be suggesting erring heavily, or perhaps completely, in the direction of interpreting speakers as not intending to make threats and discounting the views of listeners. While I may side with speakers in some cases, I lean in the opposite direction, treating speakers with suspicion, especially when those speakers go out of their way to ridicule listeners for interpreting their words in a particular way.

    This particular threshold problem might be less of an issue if libertarians ostracized and publicly shamed speakers who used derogatory language and hate speech and made a habit of demeaning others, but so many hide behind the idea of “free speech” to try to justify their bigotry. I’m not sure what to do other than point out the fact that listeners interpret things things like being called “nigger” or “tranny” in negative ways, and to try and persuade libertarians, of all people, to stop using these words.

  • #1075

    Hogeye
    Participant

    My reaction to your expanded Alice and Betty scenario is that Betty is an aggressor if she attacks Alice after Alice declines to cater to Betty’s irrational fear. Basically, Betty is demanding that Alice not use certain words, or else Betty will kill her! To me, Betty is a scumbag for making such threats. If I were Alice, I would assert my right to say whatever the fuck I pleased, and ignore Betty’s lame request.

    I am reading Wilhelm von Humboldt’s book “The Limits of State Action.” He is a sort of thick libertarian, against State power but adding an anti-uniformity “thick” condition. He makes the same points that Jonathan Haidt makes (about university professors) regarding the dangers of conformity and lack of diversity. I must say, I agree with the anti-conformity idea, and consider the mental conformity of political correctness to be much more dangerous than random dumbshit discrimination, or whatever the SJWs are afraid of. In short, I consider conformity more of a problem than bigotry; efforts at imposing conformity are way more of a danger to liberty than discrimination.

    Furthermore, I believe that the best way to handle words which snowflakes fear is … desensitization. Use the terms early and often until they are no longer fearful of mere airwave modulations. (I use “mere” to mean “solely.”)

    One of my favorite comedy spiels is by Lenny Bruce, making this desensitization point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_Z3a-52wSg

    • This reply was modified 1 week, 2 days ago by  Hogeye.
  • #1079

    Hogeye
    Participant

    Again, Jacob, you seem to miss the point. This is about aggression, not fear. Let me put it in a clearcut way: Betty shoots Alice. Betty is charged with aggression. I claim that as a judge determining whether aggression in fact occurred or not, you should not consider Betty’s emotional state at all. Her feelings are irrelevant to the question of whether the shooting was actually aggression. (Crimes are conduct, not thoughts or emotions.)

    Now, once you as judge decide whether it was aggression, then additional questions may come up. If you deemed it aggression, as is likely the case if Alice merely said “hi,” then you may also be deciding on compensation to the victim. Betty’s frail feelings may have some import here in relation to punitive damages, but not actual damages in my opinion.

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