A lot of people have been tricked into “fighting” things in a way that actually reduces their own freedom and perpetuates the thing that they are trying to eliminate.
I’ve had some trouble expressing this, because it’s hard to explain, but I think I’ve found a way to explain it adequately.
There are three types of fighting: bad fighting, good fighting, and fun fighting.
Bad fighting is physically or verbally assaulting a person or concept with the intent to eliminate or diminish it. This is mockery, insults, forceful negativity, etc. This is the state of American political discourse today, for example. One side basically shouts at itself about how stupid the other side is. You can see it in Facebook posts about political subjects, where people are doing the equivalent of yelling into the town square in a way that will never change the mind of the other team. The thing that they actually accomplish is getting other members of their own team to also yell in the town square, until you have the equivalent of a wild horde either yelling or making snarky comments that do nothing but degrade the personal validity of people on the other team.
The problem with bad fighting is that it does two things, neither of which I think the fighters actually want.
First, it causes the other side to become more dedicated. Think about it–when somebody shows up and insults your personal beliefs, insults your intelligence, or tries to convince others that you should be attacked, does that make you want to agree with the attacker? No, that sort of behavior makes people defend their position, and the more they’re attacked like that, the more they’ll defend their position.
Secondly, and this is subtle, it enslaves and degrades the attacker. This is the one where it’s the hardest to explain what I mean, but let’s start off with a simple principle: it takes two people to have a “bad” fight. If one person is yelling and the other person is like, “whatever” and just goes on with their business, there’s no real fight–it’s more like one crazy person and another chill person. Often the crazy person will just give up, eventually. But if I can convince you to fight with me in the “bad fighting” way, then we are engaged in an action together. Until you extract yourself from the situation, you will be in a fight with me. You will never win (winning is impossible, since the technique of “bad” fighting doesn’t work) and you will continue to be subject to me attacking you. Now suddenly not only are you going to feel like you’re losing more and more, you’ve given me the power to control your emotions simply by re-engaging in this fight that you’ve agreed to be a part of. If we really ramp it up, I might even be able to make you do something that you feel bad about, as part of attacking me. This can start a spiral where you’ve committed one bad act against me, but have also convinced yourself that I must be destroyed, and thus you “must” commit further bad acts against me in order to (a) try to win and (b) justify the “rightness” of having committed the original bad act. This then causes you to feel worse and worse, and viola, we go into a spiral where I have more and more control over your emotions and you feel worse and worse about yourself.
I actually think that this spiral is why “fighting” has been permeated into our culture and beliefs. That is, I think people have been taught this intentionally in an effort to degrade them so that they can be controlled. We have been taught that one must “fight” for freedom. The core idea behind this is very good–that freedom is valuable and requires action to preserve. But by using the word “fight” and via the way we’ve been taught about it, I believe many people have been given the idea that one should use force, hostility, insults, mockery, etc. to preserve this freedom. So then any time somebody threatens their sense of freedom, they lash out in a way that is actually guaranteed to eventually reduce their own personal freedom and feeling of well-being.
So what’s good fighting, then? Good fighting is when you use truth, understanding, communication, intelligent action, etc. to effect real change. Good fighting involves understanding the source of the attack, the target that needs to be handled, understanding what aspects of it one can be personally cause over, knowing what one is trying to accomplish, and doing something effective to actually accomplish that.
We can break fighting down into defense and offense.
Offense is when there is something bad that is happening and you want to eliminate it. It’s not trying to harm you (it’s not doing “bad fighting” against you), it’s just existing and you want to get rid of it. For example, imagine that you had a friend who was a racist. In this situation, you know where the bad thing is coming from (your friend), you know specifically what needs to be corrected (some racist idea he has), and you can directly communicate with that person. To be effective, you might want to first understand why he has the racist beliefs that he has. Then through communication that doesn’t attack him as an individual, you could show him some information that might help him change his own mind. This might be more or less difficult, but it does have the potential to eventually actually work. And it doesn’t engage you in an an endless battle that just ends up degrading both of you.
Is force ever necessary? Of course it is. I mean, minimally, you have to move your mouth or fingers or something in order to communicate. That’s force, right? But that’s a silly example. I think when people ask about force, they mean more like attacking or holding somebody. Look, if there’s a person on the street who is out of their mind on drugs and is doing nothing but harming themselves and others, they might not be “there” enough to even receive a communication. The situation demands that sufficient force be used to subdue the person until they can be adequately communicated with. Force itself is unlikely to ever change anybody’s mind in a positive way, though. It’s necessary, but not sufficient.
Sometimes somebody is attacking you and you need to do something to protect yourself. Sometimes you just ignore it and they go away. But that doesn’t work in all situations, especially if the attacker has a strong motivation to persist.
For example, let’s imagine somebody sues you for false reasons and they could potentially win a lot of money from it. They won’t stop that easily—they have a very powerful motivation to keep attacking you. In this situation you have to use intelligence and understanding to take effective action to defend yourself and potentially even expose your attacker. This isn’t some vast generality, where you’re being attacked by “the state” or something and now you need to “expose the state” or some nonsense that doesn’t work. I’m talking about some specific entity that is attacking you and you need to use the tools at your disposal to (a) survive and (b) effectively fight back. You get lawyers, you take real action, you investigate why this person is attacking you, and you expose their motives and the truth about them.
That’s just one random example of defense, but the idea is that there are successful ways to defend yourself, and they don’t involve (a) hostile attacks in response or (b) just sitting there and doing nothing and hoping it will all pass away.
One thing about good fighting is that it involves specific, known targets that you have the ability to actually do something causative about. It doesn’t work when you attack some generality like “the government,” “racism,” or “hunger.” The government is a giant collection of people, agencies, laws, processes, history, etc. Successfully changing it involves knowing which specific thing you want to address, getting the data on what is actually happening, finding out who has the actual power to address it, figuring out how to help that person address it, etc. “Racism” is an abstract concept–it can’t be communicated with. You can’t change its mind. It only exists in the minds of specific, individual people. If you want to eliminate “racism,” you have to find out who those people are, why they think what they think, and figure out effective ways to change their minds. If you just want to forbid certain racist actions, you have to understand who is taking those actions and how you would effectively eliminate them.
When somebody wants you to fight with a generality, they want to engage you in bad fighting with an invisible entity that you will never win against. They want you to do this either because (a) they have ulterior motives that don’t help you or (b) they have been convinced by others that fighting this generality is important.
Now I just wanted to round this out with a discussion of “fun fighting.” Fun fighting is where two different groups of people have set up teams and have just decided to consciously go at it because it’s fun. For example, let’s imagine that there two sets of people who loved baseball, one called “San Francisco Giants Fans,” and another called “Los Angeles Dodgers Fans.” They might set up a rivalry between them that involves name-calling, insults, challenges, etc. It looks just like bad fighting, sometimes, but the “players” of the game have done it all consciously with the intention of having fun. Nobody’s really being harmed (and when they are, that’s when it leaves the arena of “fun fighting” and becomes actual “bad fighting). People seem to mostly just be enjoying themselves.
It’s fine to fight things for fun sometimes! One just has to be aware that one is doing it intentionally and make sure that it doesn’t suddenly become bad fighting or draw others in to some sort of bad fighting.
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Liz Roberts Rolfe