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Is self defense authoritarian?

0 votes
Is any act of 'violence' (used here to mean "the causing of physical or psychological injury to a person or group of people"), including violence done in self-defense or to prevent greater violence, an imposition of one's will over another's? And is that authoritarian?
For example, if I shoot someone who I think was about to shoot me, or who has shot at me, have I just engaged in a form of physical domination, and robbed him of his freedom? Is it ever justified to engage in some kind of domination over another, and if so, is that contrary to anarchism?

I tried to ask these without assuming answers, but if I have made problematic assumptions or unjustified usages of words, please let me know where, so I can address these issues.
asked Oct 20, 2014 by anonymous
edited Oct 21, 2014
I think your phrasing of the question as "How is self defense not authoritarian?" rather than "Is self defense authoritarian?" carries some assumptions within it.

Potential answers are bound to be complicated based on the mess of ideas within the word "violence", but as one small aside, someone proposed that there's such a thing as liberatory violence, which directly confronts oppressive violence, and therefore isn't an "imposition of one's will" in a way that anarchists ought to have a problem with.

I'm only going to make this a comment because I don't feel that this would be my full answer.
a few thoughts/questions...

To "impose" and to "defend" are opposites to me.

When you say "justified", what do you mean?

If someone began beating me with a baseball bat, I'm not sure what I'd do, but I don't think I'd be concerned with whether or not I was acting like an anarchist at that moment.

edited: to add thoughts
i think in this question the issue is less about the definition of violence (thank you for providing one, however) and more with authoritarian or domination or imposition.

foucault is the touchstone philosopher for talking about power relationships being everywhere, and that each of us is in continual, constant negotiations about power (even just within ourselves). so we are always  convincing other people and being convinced by other people--emotionally, logically, physically, with different levels of force (from the unnoticed to the very noticed).

so is it worthwhile to consider at what point our impact on another person is not what we want it to be? absolutely.
and to imagine under what circumstances our impact on another person should change? absolutely.
and to ponder how other people's lines for how and when to change their behavior might be different from our own? yes indeed.

an example that i think speaks to this (though YMMV). i was in a feminist class once, and the one boy in the class was talking a lot more than anyone else. in my youthful enthusiasm for "fairness" or something, i asked him to be more quiet, and he got defensive, and i yelled at him. i felt good about it at the time, but another woman in the class didn't ever come back after that because she said yelling was violence to her, and she was too traumatized to even talk about it (apparently).
discuss ;)
dot, I do find the idea you mentioned about the constant negotiations of power interesting and worthwhile to consider. I suppose there could be a connection (or continuum) between someone trying to logically convince me of something (like discussing something at a party with someone voluntarily) and someone physically attacking me out of the blue (like shooting bullets at me or stabbing a knife into my gut as I walked down the street), but I'm having a hard time seeing it. In the former instance, I might just let it drop or keep arguing or simply walk away, depending on my mood and thought process at the time. I think that's worth contemplating. In the latter, I imagine I'd be trying to stay alive by whatever means possible. Perhaps I could imagine more than that, but I'm not sure I see the value in it.

Of course, mental and emotional conflict is something I deal with every day to a certain degree, while being physically attacked (especially without any provocation on my part) is something I've rarely encountered. I've never been involved in a situation as described in the OP.
i see the value as being a challenge to ourselves around agency. when and how are we agents? when is an interaction too minor or difficult to bring an anarchist lens to it?
i am not being prescriptive here. we all have our own answers.

now i will be quiet for a while.
dot - you say 'fairness or something' as if you don't think that's a worthwhile idea anymore. i assume if i was in that class i would've been grateful for your intervention. can you elaborate on all that?
i used to take things for granted more than i do now. things like fairness and safe space.
now maybe i would do the same thing, but it would be because i thought the boy was boring, rather than because i was trying to save the rest of the class. (or perhaps i would make an effort to engage other people in the class more, rather than shut him down, or perhaps i would do both. i wonder what would have happened if i'd opened up a conversation about what people thought of him talking so much, for example.)
edited for thinking more.
Ah I get what you mean. I thought you might be going down the 'if anything it's the other peoples' faults for not talking more' road.
finding fault is a loser's game.


1 Answer

–1 vote
So first I suggest analyzing power as apparatuses than existing structures.

With this analysis, and specifically in this context, it is not authoritarian to defend ones self.

A the person about to harm you, or someone you care about is inflicting or attempting to inflict some form of harm. This is authoritarian.

Defend yourself or that person, is leveling the apparatus, not putting you above said perpetrator. Your equalizing power rather than destabalizing it. They initiated and began the situation with more power.
answered Oct 25, 2014 by John Cracklemore (130 points)
a. your first sentence has jargon that is... opaque. apparatuses, specifically. not sure what the point is of using that word with its associations.
b. the next part doesn't address what harm is or what the role of intention is. if you're going to start with philosophical terms, then surely you can follow through?
c. then there is the "they started it" argument...
d. finally, you're making assumptions about who has "the most" power. there have been so many examples of people claiming they were defending themselves in response to what turns out to be a mistake, or racism (a more specific kind of mistake, i guess), etc. bernhard goetz, george zimmerman, just to name two.
the specifics of those cases aside, the equations you're glossing over re: more and less power are worthy of more consideration.