Pacifism, the idea that peaceful dealings should govern human interactions, is becoming more and more pivotal in my life. I first realized I might be a pacifist when I was a teenager. It wasn’t something I hoped I was or seriously contemplated; I just kept coming back to the idea. Then, it seemed like an impossible idea to live out, both individually and politically, but it was an intriguing theory. Pacifism in practice seemed virtually impossible, and would certainly require a tremendous commitment to a wide range of complex moral issues. This entry isn’t meant to explain, argue, or defend pacifism; it’s just stuff that’s been on my mind all day today.
I think humans are capable of living without war, violence, and killing. Several civilizations have existed peacefully in history (although many of them were wiped out early on by conquering patriarchal societies following the agricultural revolution). However, the current world is clearly far from a state in which arbitration and compromise will likely solve many domestic or international disputes effectively.
Pacifism allows for a much greater variety of stances than many people realize. Under the umbrella of the philosophy, pacifists can range from unequivocally opposing violence in any circumstance, to allowing for violence when the alternative poses a greater evil, to allowing for just wars any time that basic human rights are violated. Because pacifism spans such tremendous territory, pacifism as a personal theory is more easily maintained than as a societal theory.
As a general rule under pacifism, the deliberate killing, harm, or criminal restraint of a person is unequivocally wrong. I believe I would choose to risk my life rather than act violently as a means of self-defense. Kahlil Gibran: “If my survival caused another to perish, then death would be sweeter and more beloved.” I do not view my life as valuable enough or indispensable enough to ever defend in place of another life, even if that person acts to harm me. As I see it, the value of life cannot be measured according to a person’s actions, so the life of someone who acts immorally cannot be worth less than the life of an innocent. However, while I would’t choose to act defensively, I cannot criticize others who use violence as a means of self-defense. Again, this ties to my belief that it is not possible to judge the value of one life over another, as all human life has intrinsic value that cannot be compromised. I can only speak for myself on such an issue, and I must allow others to choose for themselves. So I guess I am not a die-hard pacifist. However, I disagree with all other forms of active killing (including capital punishment, abortion, euthanasia, and other forms of mercy killing*). A few of my friends carry concealed weapons, which sits uneasily with me. It seems to be taking self preservation one step closer to aggression, since it is acting from the standpoint of assuming hostile behavior and a willingness to carry out lethal violence.
Confucianism attains that the basis of peaceful communities is an individual calm control over mind and spirit. Pacifism extends beyond physical dealings. Emotional and verbal abuse, prejudices, hateful stances, and governmental practices like propaganda and tyranny undermine and violate human dignity. Pacifism begins on an individual level, but there is no plausible reason it cannot extend to communities and even continents. While the world is currently far from that point, I do not think war and violence are an intrinsic part of the human condition. Humans have a right to live peacefully and safely, especially from governmental powers.
One pigeonhole I frequently come against when maintaining a pacifistic stance to any degree is that I am somehow indirectly responsible for such events as the Holocaust, since stopping Hitler required risking (and ultimately losing) millions of lives. Personal pacifism is very different than political and international pacifism. I would never assert that the Holocaust should have continued because Allied countries had a moral obligation to protect their own citizens. This is the hardest area of pacifism for me to work out, and I am far from understanding it. However, I uphold that the intentional loss of any and all civilian lives (millions during WWII) is fundamentally wrong and logistically unnecessary to wage war (a separate issue in its own right). Aggressive wars are easier to regard as morally wrong, but interventionist wars are more complicated. Operating from the standpoint that one human life does not have value over another, I cannot weigh the value of American lives over foreign ones. In interventionist wars intended to protect people from mass destruction or genocidal campaigns, the outcome is more moral than a stance of strict pacifism. However, the farther removed a motive for war gets from a peaceful ideal, the less justified it becomes. In this sense, I don’t think my views are much different than much of society. However, on a personal level, I tend to take a more non-violent stance than most of my peers. (Yes, I can’t even tolerate the animal industry, and I frequently get called a bleeding heart).
*A note…certain countries cannot successfully detain some criminals without exercising capital punishment. If those criminals pose a threat to the community, this constitutes a unique and extreme situation. America operates under law and order, so it is never necessary to apply capital punishment for the enduring safety of the community. Also, abortion is occasionally required to save the life of the mother, as with ectopic pregnancies (avoiding an abortion in such cases is nonsensical). Lastly, in caring for the sick or dying, the application of palliative care can inadvertently hasten death (such as with the administration of morphine), although this is vastly different than intentional euthanasia.
Below is an approx. 2:00 clip of some Hiroshima stuff. It’s not intended to offend, only to be realistic about what tens of thousands of survivors went through.