The Psychology Behind Why Violence is used to Counter Fascism

In Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political by Louisa Leontiades

Fascism is a position which advocates the dominance of a supposedly superior people, while purging society of supposedly inferior elements. Fascists therefore believe in a hierarchy of humanity where–in our current discussions–the most superior people are considered to be white, cis-gender, heterosexual and male.

The ideological opposite of fascism is arguably egalitarianism which advocates that all people have fundamental inalienable rights, to which they are entitled by virtue of being human regardless of race, gender, and sexuality. Following World War Two and as a direct response to fascist dictatorship, the universal declaration of human rights states,

…recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

On the fascist hierarchy, women and other non-binary genders, people of colour, and those who self identify as anything other than heterosexual are not entitled to equal rights or access to the same opportunities. Facism denies anyone other than white-cis-het males human dignity, opposes their freedom, undermines their access to justice and is counterproductive to peace.

It is my belief that if you want freedom and all those things, you cannot tolerate fascism as anything other than a belief, because when it passes to intent and/or action–as Trump has with the executive orders, as Yiannopoulos has by promoting hate and division–it declares those without privilege to be less worthy, and by inference less than fully human. Moreover past history tells us that where fascists are concerned belief is indistinguisable from intention and intention quickly translates into action.

Understandably, those whom fascists consider less deserving of rights and opportunity do not take their prospective dehumanization lying down. But the course of your chosen response in the fight against dehumanization is not necessarily dictated by your political stance. Whether you use reasonable discourse or violent protest is more likely be influenced by another factor: privilege, and how your privilege promotes your own survival. The more privileged you are, the more access to power you have, the more likely you are to survive fascism and the less extreme measures you need to use in order to survive it.

As a white, cis-gender, woman I am theoretically one step away from white males in terms of privilege and therefore power in our society. I have one privilege to overcome in my fight for equal power–that of male privilege. I am, all other things being equal, less likely to resort to violence as a counter measure to fascism because I have less to overcome. The further away from the white-cis-het male ideal you are i.e the more intersectional1 your experience, the more likely you are to feel the need for a stronger response to fascism which exemplifies the supposedly most superior ideal. We can express this in other more famous2 words:

Every Action has an Equal and Opposite Reaction

In psychological terms, the bigger the perceived threat, the bigger the response to that perceived threat. Words do not cut it for many minorities, because lack of privilege means they and their words have less power; reasonable discourse is useless for them. Actions in their case, speak louder than words. The truth of this supports the reasoning of why so many white women have joined the fight now, as opposed to earlier, whilst still advocating peaceful protest. It explains the ‘wait and see’, non-violent attitude of many white men. It explains why marginalized anti-fascists feel the need to use extreme force or violence as a response. It also and unfortunately predicts that once the threat is adequately muted, according to our privileged perspective, white women will feel far less need to fight on behalf of our intersectional peers because our access to power has been restored enough for us to feel that we can survive.

Fortunately all other things are not equal and Newton’s law applies to things of physical matter.

Beliefs, opinions, judgements are not physical matter, they are concepts and therefore mutable. Changing a belief system will change the intentions and consequent actions. However changing them is difficult because they are designed to promote survival and going against survival is contrary to our nature. To dismantle your own privilege is painful because privilege gives access to power. Dismantling privilege feels like disempowerment which we perceive as a threat to survival. Yet belief systems do not always promote our survival even if we think they do. We can survive and even thrive better, by empowering others and in doing so empower ourselves. It is reciprocal. But to overcome our natural disinclination, we need some psychological hacks.

My way has been by consciously learning compassion. One reason we might feel concern for other’s suffering and be motivated to help is because we feel resonance with their pain. The chemistry in our brain is measurably affected by those with whom we feel emotional resonance. Our systems may go as far as synchronizing with one another and it is possible to experience others’ pain as if it were our own, thus driving us to protect and fight for them as we would for ourselves. As everyone further away from the fascist’s ideal struggles, so we unite against them connected by our mutual pain.

Division leads to disconnection. If we choose to live our lives divisively, we already know in advance the likely consequences. Unsurprisingly, fascists–who favour the divide and conquer ethos–are not known for their compassion. If they were compassionate they couldn’t dehumanize others as easily and this would go against their belief – that in order to survive those less privileged must be silenced.

It is my fervent hope that if–when–we emerge from the struggle, we will have experienced enough compassion for those less privileged, to change our privileged beliefs, intentions and actions. But you have a choice, why leave it up to chance? Actively cultivate your compassion for those with less privilege. Listen to personal experiences, educate yourself on intersectionality, challenge your beliefs. These are things you might read on any self-help website. Saying them is easy, but doing them is difficult and painful because changing your beliefs feels like a threat.

The easiest way to start is simply by listening and noting your own reactions. Use flashes of pain to guide you–and they will–to where there is a strong belief, opinion or judgement that needs examining. It’s work, no doubt about it. But it’s good work and if you really believe in freedom, justice and peace for all, you must do it.

This post has been edited for intersectional sensitivity by Michon Neal

1. http://socialdifference.columbia.edu/files/socialdiff/projects/Article__Mapping_the_Margins_by_Kimblere_Crenshaw.pdf

2. https://www.khanacademy.org/science/physics/forces-newtons-laws/newtons-laws-of-motion/a/what-is-newtons-third-law