A Conversation for A Pacifist's Views on Violence
figment Started conversation Apr 17, 2003
I recently discovered that im a pacifist. id never really thought about it before, but when i did, it hit me. My favourite quote to describe how i view violence was said by isaac asmov (i thing, i might be wrong): "violence is the last resort of the incompetent" think about it, its not as simple as it sounds.
Tom I. Posted Apr 17, 2003
In the beginning, I went looking for what a pacifist is supposed to be like. I found that some of my closest fellow partisans in my views on conflict solution and conflict management, were top military bosses. No kidding! The difference between us was that they thought that a few thousand tanks, rockets and armed troopers were nice to have, in case the conflict management theories went wrong, while I thought that the very presence of troopers, guns and rockets could in itself provoke a conflict.
Anyway, pacifism is not about not killing flies or just standing still watching while your family is attacked. Pacifism is about solving conflicts long before they ever come to a point where guns, rockets and cluster bombs are mentioned.
figment Posted Apr 17, 2003
how i understand 'violence is the last resort of the incompetent' is that a competent person will never need violence. of course sometimes we make mistakes, act of the spur of the moment, or just cant see any other way, and we act violently. when this happens we must declear ourselves incompetent, we have failed, we did wrong. there will always be somewhere along the road a way you could have avoided the violence. but you missed it. it is never the 'aggressors' fault, because they do not control your actions.
skeptic by nature Posted May 5, 2003
I am surprised to see some people calling themselves pacifists yet claiming that they would use violence if they had to. This seems like a very watered down version of pacifism. Many violent people would claim that they "had to" for some reason. Some people have suggested that pacifism is about finding other solutions and I supose it is, but the distinctive thing about it is suposed to be that a pacifist will not resort to violence. As Tom I points out violence is rarely the the prefered method of problem solving, even for the military. Note that Bush at least claimed that he would invade Iraq only as a last resort. Someone might claim to be a pacifist if they would never initiate violence, but that may not be saying much. Someone has already inititated violence, we live in a violent world. Marxists rebels claim that they kidnap and murder only to address the structural violence of society. I think if pacifism is to mean anything it must be the sort of commitment Ghandi made; a total refusal to act violently. Anyone who isn't comfortable with that is welcome to join my camp and be "regretably violent at times" or something like that.
I guess I am more of a consequentialist. Do what works to achieve the desired results. Violence often backfires I know; killing a terrorist and his family may only enrage others to strike back at you. Nevertheless, there are times when the crude solution of violence is vastly preferable to non-violence. This does not justify excessive violence. Waging war on the Nazi's was justified and good, firebombing Dresden was unjustified and horrible.
The issue of structural violence is the most interesting to me. I think it is too often overlooked. I wonder though if it possible to have any structure (or lack of structure) that would be non-violent. For example supose that we could treat AIDS in Africa but only by forcing companies to give drugs away. This would prevent them from doing research and finding a cure that they could sell to the rich. So by forcing the companies to behave a certain way we have done violence to the rich who now have no hope of a cure. We could fund research some other way, but eventually something has to give. We can't all live forever and the "structure" of human society is going to reflect that. I agree people should not be dying of hunger. I agree that we should be doing more to end the poverty of the third world. I just don't think there is a solution that won't injure anyone.
Anyway that's my take.
seargantFlipper Posted Dec 11, 2003
Actually it is the first resort, acording to Asimov
seargantFlipper Posted Dec 11, 2003
Sceptic, I would have to agree with you. Perhaps the only people who can truly call themselves pacifists are those who would do nothing at all to harm another regardless of the consequence. However, is that possible?
Any action, including no action is bound to offend someone, somewhere, somehow, causing "psychological violence" to that individual.
Regardless of that point the consequences of non-violent strategy will occasionally outweigh those of using violence.
The key is in determining the point. I feel I am qualified in assessing this, as I am a combat vet. I feel that there are two general guidelines as to the validity of a violent act.
1) Is it reactionary?
Unlike the incompetent man using violence as a first resort, a violent act can be justified if all other options have been exhausted and
2) Is it preventative?
If committing a violent act will prevent someone from committing their own violent act on yourself or another human being than there is no way it can be unjustified as wrong as a "reasonable" level of force is used in this prevention. For instance you probably shouldn't shoot someone to prevent their slapping someone else. Outside of that I believe that an aggressor gives up any possible expectation of a prevention of violence against their person.
Of course once an act is committed, we need to rethink our approaches. I think the problem with humanity is an overdeveloped sense of vengeance. We feel the need to punish, to visit retribution. In some senses this is needed to maintain society, and of course in some aspects retribution is good and needed. However, I do believe we take it too far. Creating felons out of people who happen to posses a small quantity of a plant that exhibits a psychotropic effect, or on a personal level people who feel the need to start a bar fight simply because someone had the audacity to spill a drink on them accidentally and then apologise for it.
Fragile egos and small minds make a deadly combination.
Iapetus Posted Mar 30, 2004
Given that most people don't go out looking for fights, but accept there are circumstances where violence may be necessary, defining Pacifism as "Not liking violence, and trying to avoid it if you can" is too weak to be worth using.
Pacifism, as I understand it, means ALWAYS rejecting war (and I presume other forms of violence).
Which, to be honest, I think is at best a foolish and naive view, and at worst even immoral.
I believe you should never "start" violence.
However, there are, and always will be people who disagree. Whether you are talking about a thug or gangster who thinks its acceptible to hit someone over the head and steal their wallet, or a thug/gangster who has taken control of a country and thinks its acceptible to hit another country over the head with a load of bombs and steal their land.
And as long as there are people like that, you need to have the means and the will to stop them, thereby stopping violence. Preferably by negotiation. But sometimes that doesn't work, and you have to use violence yourself.
As has been said before, if you have to resort to violence, it means something has gone wrong. However, if it is the other side that has gone wrong (by refusing to accept that starting a fight/war is wrong) then it is not immoral to use violence to stop them.
Indeed, it may be immoral not to, if by refusing to fight, or even preventing others doing so, you may be forcing someone to become a victim.
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