This week I found myself defending the actions of people I’ve never met, actions that I probably wouldn’t have done myself in the same situation. There’s been a bit of a running joke in the pub over the last few weeks that I’ve been throwing fire extinguishers off roofs and stuff like that, and one of the regulars wanted a proper conversation about it, so we had one. We didn’t really get very far to be honest (and we were both kind of drunk by the end of it) but it’s a good topic.
He started off with a very legalistic opposition to what happened a Millbank, that it was criminal damage and that if we just choose what laws to follow then we’re left with lawlessness and chaos (actually he said ‘anarchy’ but that’s probably not the best way of describing it). I disagreed, and said that this argument has less to do with law as it does with morality and principles. Often they go hand in hand, but not always so. Everyone agrees that a starving man stealing food to feed his family is an acceptable violation of the law, and yet noone claims in that case that choosing when to follow the law leads to lawlessness and chaos. So clearly there are some situations where breaking the law can be justified. He said that the difference is the starving man has no other option. I’m not so sure that’s a vital part of where to draw the line, and I’m also not so sure that it’s a useful comparison to draw with what happened at Millbank.
As another example I said if there was a plane that was shortly going to take off and drop bombs somewhere, then it could be justified as a form of direct action to break the engine of that plane. “Ok so what if people came here and smashed the window of the pub?” he replied, “Would you give the police the CCTV footage?” And of course I would, unless the pub owner had really been shafting these people and they genuinely were targetting the pub for a good reason. And I think that’s the difference. Breaking the law can sometimes be justified if it’s correctly targetted and for a good cause. Which is why I think storming Millbank was justified, but if they’d stormed some other building instead, it wouldn’t have been.
So if I’d been in London this week would I have also been smashing the windows of the Treasury? Probably not. Why’s that if I think it’s justified? Because even though it can be justified, that doesn’t make it mandatory. Painting ‘NO’ on the grass outside Parliament was a good thing to do, bannerdrops all over the place were good ideas. Smashing the Treasury, meh, I suppose, but it seems a little bit superfluous. But certainly stupid things like this weren’t justified:
What good comes out of it? Did the bench hurt you in some way? Is attacking this bench doing any good for the cause? Nah.
But what about Charles and Camilla being attacked? Is that justified in the same way that Millbank was? No, probably not, they have nothing to do with the cuts agenda the government is pushing. But it’s certainly understandable. Maybe that’s a better way of looking at this, rather than justifying actions (which requires a level of forward-thinking that mobs don’t tend to have at their disposal) maybe we should look at how understandable an action is. If you have a group of people protesting against privilege and unfairness in the education sector, then how do you think they’ll react when the most obvious symbol of inherited privilege in society just happens to saunter down the road right next to them? It’s all been spun out of proportion of course, but I think shaking them up a bit without actually harming them will have won people over. Let’s face it, Charles and Camilla aren’t exactly popular, perhaps least of all amongst monarchists.
The more I think about these questionable actions, the more I start to think that the majority of them are not only understandable, but also an inevitable consequence of fucking around with people for too long. I probably wouldn’t do the same thing, but I refuse to condemn the majority of it. Let’s leave that to the right wing media and scared politicians.