Politics

Is It Ethical To Dack One Nation Supporters? We Asked A Bunch Of Experts To Weigh In

Forget punching Nazis, this is the real moral question of our time.

A few weeks ago a video of a white supremacist getting punched in the face at Donald Trump’s inauguration became a viral sensation and had the whole internet asking: is it okay to punch Nazis?

Nearly every publication on the planet decided to weigh in. Here’s where The GuardianThe New York TimesThe Conversation and Vice stand on the issue, if you’re curious.

Over here at Junkee we thought the ethicists, philosophers and opinion writers were focusing on the wrong question. Neo-Nazis are abhorrent, there’s no debate about that. But there’s another serious and fast-growing threat to our way of life here in Australia: Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

One Nation is a very Australian phenomenon, so it seems appropriate to deal with them in a very Australian way: dacking. In case you’re somehow unfamiliar with the act, I’ll let Fitzy and Wippa explain:

Yes, we should fight One Nation by winning the battle of ideas and organising in our communities. But dacking could be an important weapon in our arsenal. It could serve to both embarrass and demoralise One Nation supporters.

But is it ethical? We asked some experts to find out.

Dr Matthew Beard – Ethicist at The Ethics Centre

“Two things are needed to make violence unethical: the infliction of suffering and the violation of someone’s right,” Beard told Junkee. “If my memories of primary school serve me well, dacking causes suffering. Even if it doesn’t physically hurt, it causes humiliation — a kind of psychological suffering. Plus, if we assume people have the right not to be forcibly stripped in public, we’ve got a good case for seeing dacking as a violent act.”

According to Beard the easiest justification for violence is self-defence. “If you’re about to get punched in the face, most people would say it’s okay to protect yourself by punching your attacker,” he said. “But violence needs to be proportionate to the level of threat we’re facing. This view makes it hard to justify using violence in response to speech — however unpleasant that speech might be”

Interestingly this argument seems to leave some wriggle room for dacking — in the event that One Nation supporters started doing it first. Then everyone else is just acting in self-defence, and the whole country would devolve into a giant dacking war. Awesome.

“Some might think if you spout certain political views, you forfeit the right to not be dacked,” Beard says. “But in liberal democracies like Australia, the government and its representatives are the only ones with the authority to use violence against a citizen. We can’t justify taking matters into our own hands and becoming dacking vigilantes without threatening the validity of our whole political system.”

Boo.

What about the notorious act of double-dacking, where both the pants and the underpants are removed in one swift dack? “If what’s unethical about dacking is partly the violation of someone’s right not to be exposed in public and partly the level of humiliation it inflicts, then the more exposed a person is and the more humiliated they are, the higher the ethical risk,” Beard says.

Beard told Junkee that not only was dacking in this instance not ethical, it was counterproductive.

“Dacking aims to humiliate people with opposing views, painting them as worthy of scorn and contempt,” he said. “Contempt dehumanises its targets and destroys mutual respect. In doing so, it undermines relationships and human community. That’s a high price to pay for a bit of a laugh.”

Dr James Stewart – Lecturer and Associate Researcher, University of Tasmania

“Is dacking a violent action? Yes!” Stewart says. “The intent of the action is to injure your adversary through embarrassment. Not all acts of violence are physical. Some people even maintain that the mere intention to do harm is an act of violence even if you fail to carry out the action!

“The question is then whether violence is a legitimate method for attaining one’s political objectives. A lot of people maintain that violence is not only allowed but morally necessary in some instances. Others who are pacifists say that violence is never allowed.

“But suppose you think violence is acceptable… what is the purpose of dacking someone? Do we think if we humiliate someone enough they will somehow change their mind about their wrong-headed ideas? Or that they will be so embarrassed they will withdraw from society and never participate in the political sphere again? I don’t think any of those outcomes are likely. So dacking is useless as far as things go and that is the case only if you think violence is okay.”

Stewart is a pretty emphatic pacifist. He told us he’s influenced by “Gandhi, Bayard Rustin and Santideva” and yeah, look I had to Google those other two as well.

“Humiliating someone might reduce their power by making them seem less credible,” he said. “But historically this logic hasn’t always worked — for example, Charlie Chaplin poked quite a bit of fun at Hitler in The Great Dictator. Did that cause Hitler’s rhetoric to be less effective or prevent him from amassing destructive armies? Not at all.”

Like Beard, Stewart agreed that double-dacking was an even worse ethical breach than regular dacking.

“First: the humiliation might be greater and so the harm is greater,” he said. “Second: you could very well say that dacking counts as sexual assault. Double-dacking seems even more likely to count as sexual assault. I would think exposing someone’s genitals publicly and without their consent is definitely sexual assault. That’s not cool.

“So, far as I know, there is no evidence that pulling your adversary’s pants down has any measurable effect on attaining your political goals.”

Jason Stanley – Professor of Philosophy at Yale University

As an American, Professor Stanley was unfamiliar with both One Nation and the concept of dacking. But he chipped in his two cents on the question of violence in relation to Nazis anyway, because why not.

“Nope it’s not okay,” he said bluntly. “Leaving ethics entirely aside, it’s prudentially foolish. Nazis hit a lot harder than liberals do. Viktor Klemperer relates a nurse’s comment to him, in his 1947 book, The Language of the Third Reich, about telling Nazis apart from communists in the hospital ward. She said it was easy, ‘The Nazis have lumps on their head and the communists have stilettos through their hearts.'”

We’re not sure how that translate to the Australian context, but it was a cool story so we decided to include it anyway.

Eleanor Gordon-Smith – Lecturer in Practical Ethics,University of Sydney

“If you’re the sort of person who thinks that the moral measure of an action is what consequences it has, then your job is going to be adding up the consequences of a particular instance of political violence and deciding if it’s worth it,” Gordon-Smith says. “You might make that calculation come out either way — if it just encourages more violence and makes your opponent more violent towards their targets then probably not; if it deters fascists from speaking in public then maybe.

“But if you’re the sort of person who thinks that ethical questions are resolved by looking at non-consequence-y considerations (like what rights we have as persons) then your job is more complicated than just adding up consequences. It’s going to depend on how committed you are to the view that ends can justify means.”

Gordon-Smith is hesitant to declare dacking a “violent” act and she told Junkee that “its rightness or wrongness [depends] on more than just whether it’s violent”. “It is going to depend on whether you think consequences are the most important moral measure of an act and if the consequences do, in fact, come out in favour of doing it.”

Associate Professor Chris Fleming – Philosophy Research Initiative, Western Sydney University

“Dacking is a tricky case,” Fleming says. “Obviously it’s not just physical attacks that we see as violent. Threats, cyberbullying, stalking, and certain kinds of verbal abuse are considered violent. I suppose the nearest example we have of this is the pie-throwing fiend, who targeted politicians all over the world. It was much harder to classify this as ‘violent’, partly because people found it so funny.

“When certain kinds of violence end up in laughter, think Australia’s Funniest Home Videos, they no longer seem to us like violence. Someone falls and hits their head, it’s sad; someone falls and hits their head and there’s an audience watching and circus music is playing, it’s not sad at all. And here, dacking is an act that is also (arguably) funny — at least in intent, in part — and will likely be seen as such.

“There’s also the likelihood that some of the victims will themselves be amused — or at least act like they are, in order to take the sting out of the potential humiliation. It’s the strategy of when people are laughing at you, you should laugh the loudest — something Donald Trump has somehow not learned.”

So Fleming is open to the idea of dacking as a part of our political framework, but recognises there are limitations.

“There are certain tactical problems with it,” he said. “It may trivialise the message the dacker wants to communicate and risks being seen as evidence of having nothing useful to say. But if we compare dacking to other forms of humiliation at use around the world it becomes almost insignificant.

“If the worst one fears is a good public dacking, that might be seen as a pretty decent endorsement of the stability of the social and political system in which the dacking occurs.”

Onya, Chris.

Dr Michaelis Michael – Senior Lecturer, UNSW

According to Michael, there’s going to be situations where violence is just unavoidable.

“There’s legal issues, there’s ethical issues and there’s prudential issues,” he said. “If you’re thinking as a political actor ‘What’s the best way of achieving my goals?’ the answer to that depends on what the circumstances are. If you really are in Nazi Germany, the police are on the side of the Nazis and  you’re facing violence, then perhaps violence is warranted.

“But in a liberal democracy you’re supposed to be arguing about ideas,” he said. Sadly, as satisfying as dacking might be, it doesn’t count as “arguing about ideas”. But Michael isn’t totally down on the concept.

“I have no strong view about [dacking],” he said. “That could be quite intimidating. Suppose it’s done by a bunch of big thugs to someone smaller. You could imagine that person becoming quite intimidated by that. That reminds me of tar and feathering. There are other things we could do… like baring your own bum at them. That’s a great Australian tradition.”

There you guy folks, an academic says we should moon One Nation supporters.

So… What’s The Verdict?

It seems like the general consensus is that dacking is probably unethical, counterproductive and could be classified as a violent act. But there might be some instances where it’s justified, like self-defence (though I’m not sure how useful a self-defence dack would actually be in any context). The double-dack however, was strongly condemned across the board.

Most of the experts we spoke to were supporters of the principle “treat others as you yourself would want to be treated”. Which is absolutely fair enough. But when One Nation is spouting bigotry and hatred all over the country, what can we do?

I for one refuse to rule out the dack.

If you’d like to hear more talk about ethics, check out the The Ethics Centre’s upcoming IQ2 debate on political correctness in Australia. Tickets available here.