In the wake of #Charlottesville my Facebook feed has been overflowing with folks shocked and outraged by both the eruption of violence (although anyone surprised hasn’t been paying attention) and the fact that Nazis are once again an active public force in 2017.
Don’t think it was straight-up Nazis, or don’t know what went down? Here’s an on-the-ground look. Disturbing footage – you have been warned.
I’m assuming that everyone reading this post is firmly in the “Nazis are Bad” camp, so I’m not going to belabor that point. I also don’t want to overtalk the POC and Jewish folks who need the floor right now.
However, I would like to discuss a tangential issue that keeps coming up: the guilt many are feeling because they’re not out on the front lines clashing with Nazis face-to-face, shedding blood for the cause.
Examples abound. “I wish I could protest, but I’m not able-bodied and wouldn’t be able to physically protect myself.” Or, “I would be out there, but I have two young children and can’t leave them without a parent if I’m arrested/injured/murdered.” Or, “I’m sorry, but I can’t get off of work to protest without losing my job!” It’s like they feel lacking in some way, like they’re not being courageous enough, and they’re apologizing for it.
Let’s unpack that.
What is courage, anyway?
Courage is a virtue honored by every Pagan/polytheist path I can name. Even beyond that, though, we’re all the heroes of our own stories, and when the chips are down we picture ourselves as heroes. Or even superheroes. And if – when – we fall short of being the heroes we think we should be we beat ourselves up for it.
It wasn’t always like that, though. Ancient polytheists valued courage too. Thing is, they defined courage differently than we tend to, and that naturally manifested in a different view of heroes.
Here, this says it better than I can:
“Aristotle describes each virtue as a mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is a mean between cowardice, on the one hand, and rashness on the other.
“To be courageous is neither to shrink from your best action on account of fear, nor to foolishly go into danger when no good is likely to come from your doing so. This means that what is courageous for one person may actually be cowardly for another, and rash for a third, depending on the abilities and situations of the individuals. For a small seven-year-old to fight a large eight-year-old bully may be courageous, when it would be cowardly for an adult to act in the same manner, and rash for a four-year-old to do so.
“The key to determining the mean in the case of courage is deliberation about what good is threatened, what options one has to protect that good, and what the likely outcome will be using the different options. The course of action which does not sacrifice the good to fear, when one has a likelihood of protecting it by taking action, is the mean between the extremes of cowardice and rashness, and hence is the courageous one.”
Deborah Kest, Right Action – A Pagan Perspective, ADF
By those standards, Wonder Woman was courageous. As a superhero, her charge could conceivably make a real difference and she didn’t let fear stop her from making the attempt. Anyone attempting to emulate her would be considered rash, though, because they would have immediately died on the field without accomplishing anything. That doesn’t make everyone not Wonder Woman a failure, it just makes them human.
Ancient heroes were often blessed in some way, demigods or magical or whatever. They could do things beyond the human. That’s what made them heroes. Those of us without those blessings could never hope to measure up. Which is fine – we weren’t expected to.
In the ancient world, heroic deeds were inspirational benchmarks, not standards to be met.
Most of us are more prone to caution than recklessness, right? Were I somewhere with bullets flying I’d be way more likely to hunker in my bunker than charge screaming across a battlefield. Thinking of Wonder Woman might be the inspiration I needed to act instead of being paralyzed by fear.
On the other hand, if I were prone to being reckless? To not thinking things through? Those in the bunker would be inspirational, because that extreme would be the harder one for me to reach.
True courage lies between hunkering down and brazenly charging down the throat of a stronger foe. Hitting either extreme means we’re missing the mark. Courage is the sweet spot in the middle.
Nazis win if we quietly keep to our bunkers. They also win if all those protesting them die in the doing. No matter which extreme we’re talking about we wind up with no one kicking Nazi ass. And who wants that?
Courageous Responses to Nazis
Each of us has our own mean, our own courage sweet spot, based on our own individual circumstances. We simply have to find it.
It can be hard to find that sweet spot in the moment, though. If we’re hardwired to hide we’ll do that by default until we have time and space to process. If we’re more prone to lash out we’ll do that until we can rein it in. Our instinctive responses will happen before our brains can catch up.
Martial artists are familiar with this phenomenon. That’s why they practice the same moves over and over until they become instinctual. They’re deliberately rewiring their brains so that the training overrides their instincts.
We can do the same thing when it comes to courageous action. While most of us don’t want to live a life where crisis becomes routine, it does help to work out our logic trees in advance of a crisis. When it comes to Us vs. Nazis, we’re better off if we’ve at least grappled with the theory a little before we go about putting ourselves in harm’s way.
So let’s grapple with Aristotle.
1. What “good” is being threatened? What are we protecting?
Nazis directly and violently threaten our communities, our friends and neighbors, our families, and ourselves. They’re fascist, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, and homophobic. Many of the homegrown version are theocratic, too. I don’t know about you, but damn near everyone I know falls somewhere on their hit list. All of those targeted groups need to be protected.
On a greater level, the Nazi threat radiates beyond our communities onto the world stage, especially considering the power America wields. Imagine the might of the US military in the hands of Steve Bannon and his fanboys.
With courageous action against Nazis we can help protect every citizen on earth. That’s a pretty important thing to do!
2. What are our options? What can we do to protect what we value against Nazis?
There’s a whole wide range of responses we could make here, from deciding to “focus on happier things than politics” to “drawing and quartering every Nazi we find”. I don’t find either of these options to be ethical (and I hope my readers don’t either!), so I’m not going to discuss them. That said, what are some ethical things we can do?
- Show up ready and willing to physically throw down with Nazis in public protests.
- Serve as support for those physically protesting (supply bottled water and food, disperse information for planned protests, host planning meetings, offer crash space for those coming in from out of town, offer transportation, offer a safe retreat option if things go south, help protestors network, etc.).
- Take classes in de-escalation tactics and first aid and/or help other people get trained.
- Learn self-defense and/or teach it to others.
- Help protesters and targeted groups with self-care or networking.
- Step in when witnessing a one-on-one case of Nazis harassment, or call the cops if stepping in isn’t advisable for whatever reason.
- Show up to speak out against Nazis in public forums, knowing violence is unlikely but possible.
- Speak out against Nazis in face-to-face situations unlikely to lead to violence, such as with family and friends, knowing you’re risking those relationships.
- Actively amplify the voices of those targeted by Nazis.
- Cut ties to those who espouse Nazi views, letting them know why you’re cutting those ties.
- Make your anti-Nazi stance knows to employers, both your own and those with whom you do business.
- Make your anti-Nazi stance known to the employers of known Nazis and the companies with whom they do business (hotels, web servers, gyms, restaurants, etc).
- Write letters to your government representatives linking your anti-Nazi stance to recent events.
- Speak out against Nazis online, knowing that doxxing and other types of reprisals are possible.
- Speak out against Nazis online anonymously.
- Refuse to let Nazis rebrand themselves, or apologists to do it for them. Call out Nazis where you find them as Nazis, without using whatever more palatable term they come up with. (Notice how many times I specifically say “Nazi” in this post? There’s a reason for that.)
- Write, sing, dance, paint, and put on theatrical productions that show how bad Nazis are – there’s certainly PLENTY to work with!
- Recommend those creative works to others and support the creators.
- Form a book club to collectively read and discuss pertinent works (The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hiding Place, and Number the Stars are all classic options).
- Prepare hidden rooms in your home or on your property to hide victims of potential purges without posting that shit online! (An extreme, I know, but it is an option for any upcoming dystopian hellscape… ).
- Get passports for you and yours in case you need to leave the country as a result of doing any of the above.
- Leave the country to ensure the safety of yourself and your dependents while continuing to speak out against Nazis from the outside.
Please notice that these options aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s also not an exhaustive list.
3. What are the likely outcomes/consequences of taking these options? What are the likely rewards?
There’s no hard and fast answer to this because every person’s circumstances are different. Publicly stating anti-Nazi views in cosmopolitan New York has a very different range of likely consequences and rewards than doing the same in, say, Middle-of-Nowhere Oregon!
Keep in mind that the key word of this whole step is “likely”. Sure, we could catch Ebola tomorrow, but it’s not a likely scenario and we shouldn’t plan our lives around the possibility. However, that means that part of being courageous is staying informed. How do we know if something’s likely or not if we refuse to see what’s really happening around us? Information is power, always, and in this case information helps us make the best choices possible.
By confining our options to “likely” we improve our chances of finding that happy spot between “letting fear guide our steps” and “being reckless with our health and safety”.
Consider too that Nazis are making the same decisions we are, with the same consequence/reward balance. Factoring that in helps us more accurately judge a given action’s effectiveness. Besides, discouraging Nazis from being Nazis is its own reward.
4. What is the best action I could take when protesting Nazis? Which option demonstrates true courage?
Something I find fascinating about Aristotle’s breakdown is that, by his standards, our feelings about it don’t really matter. We can feel scared or cocky or anything in between, and that’s fine. Courage relies on what we do, not how we feel about that choice. That’s why the article quoted above is titled “Right Action” instead of “Right Feeling”.
A courageous act is one that is the best choice available for the greatest good possible from a given set of options, regardless of our fear or lack thereof. It’s less berserker and more chess master.
And that leaves room for all of us to courageously protest Nazis to the best of our abilities and circumstances, with the only shame being the refusal to try.
May we all try our best.
To the Resistance!