David Heinemeier Hansson

February 23, 2022

Equating blasphemy with violence legitimizes the inquisition

By far the most furiously pushback I've received for writing about the Canadian trucker protest has come from calling it "peaceful". Objections to this term has taken many forms. But they all seek to justify the opposite label of "violent", no matter the blind logical leaps required.

Some claim that the background of certain organizers or participants as either anti-government, white supremacist, trumpers, conferate-flag-wavers, or whatever means that even if there were no (or only isolated) violent acts, that this still rendered the protests at large violent. Others that "hateful rhetoric" or "unacceptable views" was violence in speech. Others still that incessant honking or blocked streets constituted violence against the peace and habitability of their city. 

There may or may not be merit to any or all of these grievances. Reasonable people can disagree about what constitutes "hateful rhetoric", for example. And I'm sure anyone would grow impatient with incessant honking if they lived near by. But that does not connect any of these objections in any logical line with the term "violence". To do that, you need to willfully conflate and redefine its meaning to fit a political agenda.

See, once you've claimed something to be violent, you've justified the maximum severity of a response. Actions that would never seem reasonable against "peaceful protestors" are now suddenly warranted. (Which is what gives peaceful protests such tremendous power – they deny legitimacy to severe crackdowns.)

That's how the truckers stymied the powers in Ottawa for so long. These weren't the protests of burning buildings, looted stores, or coordinated attacks on police. I remember one report from a major outlet including such offenses as drunkenly disorder and public urination amongst the crimes committed. You know they're really scrapping the barrel when violations such as these end up in news reports.

So this is why the designation of "peaceful" had to be contested. Disputing that assessment was and always is the key to unlocking a draconian response. Every despot under the sun knows to legitimize their disproportionate intervention by claiming to protect the security of the people. And if no credible threat to such security exist, they manufacture it, even if just rhetorically.

A healthy democracy on the other hand would have engaged. Met with the protestors rather than demonized them. Offered concessions were reasonable to show reasonableness. Included their voice in the conversation. That could have disarmed the brunt of the energy or at least diminished it.

Instead the response appears designed to radicalize further. To alienate. To ostracize. And to persecute. It's a response of vindictiveness, and guilt by association. It's also the potential start of the kind of cycle that leads to nowhere good. The logic of "beatings will continue until morale improves". And it's all rooted in this word: Violence. It's definition. It's now tortured definition. It's all encompassing reach.

Violence is violence. Everything else is people shouting.

About David Heinemeier Hansson

Made Basecamp and HEY for the underdogs as co-owner and CTO of 37signals. Created Ruby on Rails. Wrote REWORK, It Doesn't Have to Be Crazy at Work, and REMOTE. Won at Le Mans as a racing driver. Fought the big tech monopolies as an antitrust advocate. Invested in Danish startups.