Property Damage and Egos

There’s been some discussion on social media about what happened at UC Berkeley last week. What I saw ranged from condemnation to support and warning the other side that they’ll play “into the hands of the fascists.” The discussions I am talking about here are those going on among people on the left, not the incitement of murder we’ve seen from some in the GOP. I don’t want to go into the actual topic here – untangling what is violence, whether property damage is violence, etc – because I have a sense that there’s already a rich literature on this discussion from the 1960s. I want to learn before I contribute directly. Instead I want to share some observations about what might be behind at least some of the discussions.

Ultimately, I suspect liberals and anarchists (setting aside, at least for now, how broad-stroke those labels are) want the same thing: Prevent the United States from further declining into an authoritarian, fascist state. We’re all scared as we watch it happening. We disagree on tactics and probably also end points. There might be more common ground than we realize. A lot of rhetoric is getting in the way of seeing our commonalities. And egos.

I noticed that first on the other side: Property damage is perceived as violence because so many of us define ourselves through what we own. Our clothes, our cars, our houses are expressions of ourselves. So, breaking windows and ATMs must hurt someone because somehow they are part of someone. (The break-down of this perception is clearer to see when we’re talking about property of companies…)

As I got more involved in the discussions, I started to notice my own reactions. I don’t like to be accused of collaborating with Nazis. And I don’t like it when someone uses “liberal” as an insult. That’s attachment. I am attached to being seen a certain way: as anti-fascist and open-minded. When that is questioned, indirectly in this case, I have a sense of being personally attacked, become defensive and react. Ironically, I ended up accusing “the other side” of exactly that they were accusing people like me of: Playing into the hands of fascists. When I really was playing into the hands of my ego, something that is probably facilitated on social media because many people we interact there don’t bother to learn who we really are. We react to snippets and ignore context. Again, I had seen this in others. Now, I was doing it myself.

When this happens – when we identify with labels – we are not able to fully engage in a discussion because we’ve become defensive. What can help in situations like this, which I find so challenging to do in the thick of it, is to step away, to take a break, to sort out what’s going on internally. These issues are complicated enough we don’t need to make them more so by defending against (imaginary) threats: The threat against who we are.

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