So, I just read how the hacker “group” Anonymous has been publicly outing members of the KKK. This has been variously accompanied by triumphalist celebrations by some people on the political Left. “Yay … justice … woo-hoo …”
I find such behavior singularly disgusting, both the outing and the celebration of it. When homosexuals are outed against their will – sometimes with devastating consequences – this is an intolerable violation of those persons’ privacy and lives. But when “we” do something similar, it is “justice”! When workers and protectors at a Planned Parenthood clinic have their faces, their families, their home addresses plastered all over the internet, this is a violent attack on their persons and safety. But when “we” do it, it is “justice”. Because, “obviously,” “we” are “good” guys, and “they” are “bad” people.
How is it that the question of right or wrong is exhausted by answering whether or not we are the one’s doing it? The question is obviously rhetorical, and the answer is, “obviously, it is not.”
There are numerous examples of nominally wrong actions being done for right reasons such that those reasons suffice to (arguably, at least) justify those actions. To kill another person is wrong, but if that killing occurred in the course of self-defense or the protection of innocent people, it will generally be viewed as a justifiable homicide. Violating the law is typically viewed as wrong, but when the law itself is unjust and immoral, then violating that law can itself become a moral duty. This is the leverage I wish to apply to the actions of Anonymous toward the KKK. My instrument of choice here is one of the most tightly reasoned moral arguments of the last century: Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. (The link just provided is to the official copy in the King archives at Stanford. My page references will be to the typed page numbers of the letter, rather than the pages of the .PDF file.)
There have been various arguments in the past that any violation of the law is always wrong, but these arguments are not compelling. Still, what sorts of standards might one apply so as to give a reasoned justification for a violation? King knew that he was himself pressed by this question, as many of his actions were direct violations of law, while other laws he insisted must be obeyed. As King says, “One may well ask, “how can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws.” (pg. 7, original emphasis.) King offers some comments that a just law is one that is in accord with “the moral law,” but this (as it stands) is too vague to be a source of any judgment. (However, as he was originally Brightman’s student at Boston University, it is certainly the case that King was familiar with Brightman’s book Moral Laws.) However, King quickly gets more specific when he says, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” The word “personality” has taken on an excessively psychological connotation over the years; the somewhat awkward, but overtly metaphysical term “personhood” could be substituted into this context in a clarifying way. King goes on to give various additional examples: an unjust law is one that is inflicted upon a minority that fabricates separation, especially when that minority had no say in the making of the law. Meanwhile, a just law can be applied unjustly by the administrative uses that institutionalize oppressions that are not written into the law itself. (pp.’s 7 – 8.)
So what, then, of the right to privacy? Foolish people who cannot or will not read above a 3rd grade level might spout the overused nonsense about how there is no such right in the Constitution. Anyone who can or will read above a 3rd grade level will already be aware that the 9th Amendment makes it absolutely clear and explicit that rights do not have to be mentioned in the Constitution in order to exist. THAT the right to privacy exists is a well-established fact of law, regardless of how monstrously that right is abused in everyday life, often in the name of the law. So when Anonymous – cowering behind their shroud of anonymity – tramples over that right, regardless that the people so trampled were “bad,” how are thinking people supposed to react? Are we to imagine that members of Anonymous are shielding themselves from the consequences of a law that is unjust? Yet how can a right – that is held by ALL PERSONS, regardless of whether we like them or not – be unjust when it is, in point of fact, the very paradigm of a just law? Recall here as well that the KKK themselves traditionally embraced anonymity in the face of laws they believed were unjust, in the name of a higher “justice” which they declared themselves to be serving. It is easy to see that the KKK was wrong, as the “justice” they fancied themselves to be serving was, in demonstrable reality, the very model of an unjust law, a law that degraded human personhood, that imposed a rule on others which those others had no voice in forming, and so on. But are we seriously to believe that in this, or any other situation, two wrongs magically make a right, even when Anonymous is the author of at least one of those wrongs?
Outing a person, regardless of whether that person is someone we like, is the very model of the coward’s and bully’s ad baculum technique: to bully and intimidate another into silence. If it is wrong when “they” do it to “us,” why is it OK when “we” do it to “them?”
Which brings us to the whole “anonymous” thing. Is it even possible to fight for justice while sniveling in the shadows?
King goes on to state that,
I hope you can see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law as the rabid segregationist would do. This would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do it openly, lovingly, … and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit to you that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law. (pp.’s 8 – 9, original emphasis.)
There does not seem to be an abundance of evidence that Anonymous abides by this standard of justice. Nowhere in the actions Anonymous has taken do I see either the openness or the lovingness that King set out as the sine qua non of a justifiable defiance of the law. Indeed, by their very nature, Anonymous operates in a framework that expresses the deepest contempt for law. There is no accountability or control over their actions of any kind – why is that OK when they do it, but not OK when somebody else does it? Oh! I forgot! They’re on “our side,” so what ever they do is, by definition, “OK.” So why is it, when others apply that same standard to THEIR actions and heroes, we are outraged by the injustice of it?
And please, let us not stoop so low as the argumentum ad nazium as legitimizing hiding in the shadows. Joe Hill, John Reed, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs, Margaret Sanger, all faced as much and worse as the contemporary laws of the United States threaten, and chose all the same to stand upon their respective soap-boxes and speak the truth as they saw it. Hell, for that matter, the American “Founding Fathers” – “We must all stand together, or we will surely hang separately” – made no bones about signing their names to a document that would have them indicted for treason by a government that had no laws against “cruel and unusual punishments.”
I don’t like the KKK – hell, NOBODY likes the KKK, including and especially the KKK themselves. If Klansmen did like themselves, that liking would leave them secure in their own personhoods, and they would then express no need or desire to degrade others in order to build themselves up. But what Anonymous is doing is wrong; it is subject to no legal, logical, moral, or democratic controls of any kind. As such, it is simply a self-serving community of power elite, who define for themselves what is or is not right, without concern for anything beyond their own self-defined purposes, within the Festung of their own self-defined “principles.”